CHICAGO (CBS) -- Before the Illinois House panel investigating possible disciplinary action against Speaker Mike Madigan over his dealings with ComEd, Democrats and Republicans already are at odds over how to move forward with their probe.
At the Special Investigating Committee's first meeting last week, lawmakers from both parties agreed to consult with U.S. Attorney John Lausch to make sure their probe won't interfere with the criminal investigation of ComEd, which has been charged with a years-long bribery scheme that sought to influence the nation's longest-serving House Speaker.
As part of a deferred prosecution agreement, ComEd admitted attempting to influence legislation regarding the regulatory process that determines the rates it is allowed to charge customers for electricity. ComEd acknowledged it stood to benefit by more than $150 million from that legislation.
After speaking to Lausch on the phone this week with Lausch about the House panel's probe, Democratic and Republican lawmakers tried to craft a joint letter describing their understanding of the limits Lausch had set on what documents they could seek, which witnesses they could call, what kinds of questions they could ask.
However, they couldn't agree on a letter to send to Lausch, so now both parties are sending their own letters.
Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch, the Democrat from Hillside chairing the committee, accused Republicans of trying to use the committee's process for "political gamesmanship."
Welch said Lausch had no objections to the committee calling witnesses, but "would object to witnesses disclosing material information or documents related to their federal investigation or grand jury deliberations – specifically information underlying the government's deferred prosecution agreement with Commonwealth Edison."
"I will not allow the work of this committee to inappropriately interfere with the work of the U.S. attorney, and I will not allow it to be manipulated for petty political gain," Welch said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
Eleni Demertzis, a spokeswoman for House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, said the three Republicans on the investigating committee sent Welch a draft letter to Tuesday on Tuesday for review, and he sent over his own version essentially ignoring theirs.
"We did not argue, and sent back our own edits to their draft. At 4:15, Rep Demmer received a call from Rep Welch indicating they were going to send their version of the letter at 4:30, without any of our suggestions or changes," Demertzis wrote in an email. "We will be sending our own letter shortly and we look forward to the US Attorney's response so we can proceed with the important work of the Special Investigating Committee."
Republicans have not released a copy of the letter they sent.
In his letter to Lausch, Welch said he came away from their phone call with three key takeaways:
Your office has no objection to requesting certain identified witnesses voluntarily testify or produce documents. However, it was stipulated there would be an objection to any witness disclosing material information or documents related to the federal investigation or grand jury deliberations. Thus, your office would object to the Committee requesting testimony or documents provided to your office in connection with your investigation.
Your office would object to requests for documents, information, or testimony from your office, as well as other federal agencies, regarding the facts and circumstances underlying the DPA. This includes confirmation of the names of individuals or entities who are identified only by descriptive titles in the DPA and its attachments.
Your office requested that the Committee consult with your office prior to seeking testimony or documents from any individuals, other than those that have been identified.
Welch has said the committee will not schedule further hearings until they get a formal response from Lausch.
The committee was formed after Durkin and two other Republican state lawmakers filed a petition requesting the House look into whether Madigan should be disciplined over his dealings with ComEd.
In July, federal prosecutors announced ComEd had been charged with a years-long bribery scheme that sought to influence Madigan by arranging for jobs, contracts, and payments to his allies and associates. Madigan was not specifically named in the case, and has not been charged with a crime.
The speaker did not attend committee's first hearing, and is not required to be present for any of the proceedings unless the committee votes to subpoena him. However, he may attend any hearings if he chooses, along with his attorneys.
Durkin and the petitioners have submitted a list of potential witnesses they would like to voluntarily testify and produce documents. The list includes Madigan, former lobbyist and Madigan adviser Michael McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, former ComEd vice president Fidel Marquez, former ComEd lobbyists John Hooker and Jay Doherty, former Chicago alderman Michael Zalewski, and "any individual currently or formerly employed by Commonwealth Edison with knowledge of the matters contained in the Deferred Prosecution Agreement."
Federal agents raided Zalewski's home last year in connection with the ComEd investigation, but he has not been charged with a crime.
Marquez was charged earlier this month with bribery and conspiracy, accused of scheming with others to corruptly solicit jobs, contracts, and payments for the benefit of Magidan and his associates in order to influence legislation that would benefit ComEd. Madigan was identified in court documents as "Public Official A." Marquez is accused of sending a payment of $37,500 to "Company 1, a substantial portion of which was intended for associates of Public Official A."
If a majority of the Special Investigating Committee – comprised of three Democrats and three Republicans – determines there is probable cause to file disciplinary charges against Madigan, a separate 12-member disciplinary committee would be formed to vote on each possible charge.
If the disciplinary panel approves any charges, the full House would then vote on any possible disciplinary action. A two-thirds majority vote would be required to sanction Madigan. That would mean, at any point in the process, at least some Democrats would have to support disciplinary charges against Madigan for him to be punished.
for more features.