CHICAGO (CBS) -- An Illinois House committee weighing possible disciplinary action against Speaker Michael Madigan over the ComEd bribery scandal will coordinate with federal prosecutors before calling any witnesses or seeking any documents in the case.
The House Special Investigating Committee held its first hearing Thursday in Springfield as lawmakers on the panel consider whether to recommend Madigan face any political sanctions over his dealings with ComEd, which has been charged with a years-long bribery scheme that sought to influence the nation's longest-serving House Speaker.
Republicans who are seeking disciplinary charges against Madigan provided a preliminary list of witnesses they'd would like to testify, but chairman Emanuel "Chris" Welch (D-Hillside) said the committee first will consult with the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago to avoid interfering with the ongoing federal investigation.
"It is imperative that this committee communicate and consult with the U.S. Attorney's office," Welch said. "Before we take any substantive action, we must consult with the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District. This committee must avoid taking any action that can be an interference with an ongoing federal investigation."
Reps. Welch and Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) hope to talk with U.S. Attorney John Lausch on Friday, CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reported.
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. The feds say 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.
Under a three-year deferred prosecution agreement, ComEd will pay a record $200 million fine, and cooperate with an ongoing federal probe. If it meets its obligations under the agreement, the charges against ComEd will be dropped in 2023.
Madigan was not charged as part of the case, and was identified in court documents as "Public Official A."
In response to the bribery case, Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) and two other Republican state lawmakers filed a petition requesting the House convene a special investigative committee to look into whether Madigan should be disciplined over his dealings with ComEd.
Republicans and many Democrats have called on Madigan to resign, but he has maintained he has done nothing wrong, and called the petition for an investigative committee "a political stunt" ahead of the 2020 elections.
The six-member House Special Investigating Committee held its first hearing Thursday morning.
Durkin told the committee the three Republican petitioners are seeking a single disciplinary charge against Madigan.
"Representative Madigan engaged in conduct which is unbecoming to a legislator, or which constitutes a breach of public trust as detailed in the admissions by Commonwealth Edison in the deferred prosecution agreement, including engaging in a bribery scheme, an extortion scheme, a conspiracy to violate federal and state laws, among other misconduct and misuse of the office," Durkin said, reading from the formal charge filed with the committee.
The speaker did not attend Thursday's 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 last week 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."
Welch said, before moving forward with any witnesses, the committee must first consult with the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago to make sure they don't interfere with federal prosecutors' ongoing investigation.
Durkin said he and other Republicans have no intention of interfering with the federal probe.
Rep. Deanne Mazzochi (R-Elmhurst), one of three Republicans appointed to serve on the investigating committee, said she wants to make sure the committee doesn't stop its work entirely while consulting with federal prosecutors.
"I think it is appropriate for us to continue to seek additional discovery, because we do want to proceed at a decent pace, and what we want to ensure is that the individuals for whom we are going to be seeking voluntary documents and testimony have the longest opportunity to prepare as they can," he said.
Welch, however, said the committee can't afford to take any action to call witnesses or seek any documents until they can be sure they aren't interfering with the federal probe. He noted there is little precedent for the potential disciplinary action against Madigan.
The Illinois House has formed a special investigating committee to vote on disciplining a lawmaker only twice in the past 20 years, following the bribery arrests and indictments of Rep. Derrick Smith in 2012 and Rep. Luis Arroyo last year. The House ultimately voted to expel Smith, who was re-elected months later, but lost another bid for office in 2014. Arroyo resigned before the House could begin any disciplinary proceedings.
Welch said the committee will follow the precedent set in the Smith case, and will keep in regular contact with federal prosecutors to avoid any conflicts.
Republicans on the committee said they hope to meet weekly, but no future hearings have yet been set. Welch said he will schedule the next hearing after the committee reaches out to federal prosecutors.
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.
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