Emails shown at trial detail Madigan world’s response to 2018 sexual harassment scandal
In early 2018, longtime Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan was facing a sexual harassment scandal that his closest advisors worried could doom his political future.
A 28-year-old Democratic campaign operative named Alaina Hampton had publicly accused Madigan of mishandling complaints that another top political staffer within the speaker’s close orbit had made unwanted advances and sent her inappropriate text messages. Hours before Hampton’s story went public, Madigan fired the staffer, who was the brother of Madigan ally and Chicago 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn.
It was the height of the #MeToo movement, and members of Madigan’s inner circle were worried Hampton’s allegations would jeopardize his ability to get re-elected as House speaker.
“If we want to protect and save MJM we cannot play punchy bags above the belt,” influential Springfield lobbyist and longtime Madigan confidant Mike McClain wrote in a February 2018 email to four people close to the speaker, using the initials for Michael J. Madigan. “It is time to be offensive.”
McClain’s email, written eight days after Hampton called a press conference to make her allegations public, suggested Madigan’s inner circle feed stories to reporters about three others in Springfield who had rumored #MeToo issues of their own. The three names were redacted when the email shown to a federal jury on Tuesday, but they included a lawmaker who had allegedly used his “open marriage” to hit on women.
“We cannot lose him,” McClain wrote of Madigan. “We cannot give Illinois to these guys. So, we have to play sort of by their rules.”
‘What do we do with this panel?’
The email was introduced as evidence in the trial of longtime Madigan chief of staff Tim Mapes, who was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice after allegedly lying to a grand jury investigating Madigan and his inner circle. Prosecutors say Mapes’ answers that he didn’t recall or didn’t know that McClain had been informally doing “assignments” for Madigan were implausible given the closeness of the three men – at least until Mapes was forced to resign after his own sexual harassment allegations in June 2018.
Madigan and McClain will stand trial on bribery and racketeering charges in April. In May, a federal jury convicted McClain and three others for their roles in orchestrating a bribery scheme in which electric utility Commonwealth Edison offered jobs and contracts for Madigan associates in exchange for favorable legislation.
On the witness stand Tuesday, lobbyist and longtime Madigan staffer Will Cousineau – one of the four recipients of McClain’s email – confirmed the speaker’s inner circle spent a lot of time in 2018 strategizing about how to mitigate harm to Madigan in the wake of Hampton’s accusations. Cousineau said those around Madigan were afraid he’d lose his speakership.
As dire as the situation was, however, Cousineau said Tuesday that he didn’t believe Madigan’s advisors “ever took up any of these ideas.”
Instead, shortly after Hampton made her allegations public, Madigan was forced to oust another longtime operative after female Democratic House members and former candidates accused him of bullying.
Facing a growing issue, Madigan – in his capacity as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois – appointed three women to head up the party’s “Anti-Harassment, Equality and Access Panel.” The panel was tasked with making recommendations for campaigns, which pose unique human resources issues due to their small staff sizes and seasonal nature.
Madigan critics questioned the panel’s independence from the outset. So early on, the three women – U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-17, Comptroller Susana Mendoza and state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana – sent a public letter to Madigan saying they needed to be “completely independent from any oversight,” which included rejecting any resources the party offered.
“To that end, we will establish an independent funding mechanism to pay for the staff, research, legal and human resources expertise necessary to develop an effective and fact-based set of recommendations,” the letter read. “We will hire our own staff without input from the Democratic Party of Illinois.”
Despite that request for independence, an email from McClain sent in March 2018 showed he had a gameplan for how to exert influence over the panel, including sending a letter offering fundraising, support and ideas for how the panel should operate.
It’s unclear whether McClain’s ideas gained traction, but in an early May 2018 call played for the jury on Monday, Madigan expressed frustration that Bustos – acting on legal advice at the congressional level – resigned from the panel, and without the speaker’s input, the other two women appointed then state Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake. Bush had been outspoken in her criticisms of Madigan, and as a member of the state Senate, was further from the speaker’s influence.
“I had wanted to talk this afternoon about well, what do we do with this panel?” Madigan said on a conference call with five close advisors, including Mapes and McClain. “What do we do with it? Do we do anything with it? Do we just let it go and go and go?”
Later in the call, longtime Madigan spokesman Steve Brown warned the media would pick up on any clues that the speaker was interfering with the panel’s work, and the sexual harassment allegations against Madigan’s organization would be rehashed.
“I’m trying to get my head around the idea that some other entity crops up and it's not portrayed as an effort to supplant, derail whatever Mendoza's supposed to be doing,” Brown said.
In the end, the panel established itself as a 501(c)4 nonprofit and held a series of hearings around the state. In September 2018, the panel produced a final 36-page report detailing suggestions for political campaigns, including a model anti-harassment policy, intertwined with anonymized quotes and anecdotes from campaign staffers.
“The women we heard from on our statewide listening tour confirmed the old boys’ club culture, a product of decades of institutionalized sexism and racism, is alive and well in Illinois politics,” the report began.
Also on Tuesday, prosecutors played nearly half of Mapes’ more than two-hour testimony in front of the grand jury in 2021.
Government attorneys were seeking to show the jury the direct contradictions between what Mapes said in testimony and what he said on phone calls with McClain that neither of the men knew were wiretapped.
In a pair of calls from 2018, Mapes and McClain spoke about state Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, who had been getting assistance from McClain in the yearslong effort to massively expand gambling in Illinois.
“Did you talk to Rita today, this week?” Mapes asked McClain in August 2018.
“I talked to him this week, yeah,” McClain replied.
Prosecutors immediately followed that recording by playing a section of Mapes’ grand jury testimony where he denied knowing that McClain was in contact with Rita at any point after McClain’s retirement from lobbying in late 2016.
Asked if McClain knew Rita, Mapes demurred.
“Oh, I’m sure he did,” Mapes told the grand jury. “He was a member of the House for 15 or 20 years.”
And asked directly whether he was “aware of any contact between” McClain and Rita, Mapes said he wasn’t.
“I don’t recall any at all,” Mapes said. “Any dialogue.”
Mapes was also asked whether he knew of anyone close to Madigan who was on friendly terms with John Hooker, a lobbyist for ComEd.
“I don’t recall any today,” Mapes said.
In the so-called “ComEd Four” trial this spring, Hooker and McClain were co-defendants. Hooker even testified that after three decades of friendship with McClain, he called him his “brother from another mother.”
Mapes also denied to the grand jury knowing that McClain was in contact with former state Rep. Lou Lang in the three years after McClain officially retired as a lobbyist.
“You don’t recall any information that would suggest that Mr. McClain and Mr. Lang were in contact during that time period, is that fair to say?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu asked Mapes.
“Correct,” Mapes replied.
Lang, who’s expected to testify on Wednesday, also testified in this spring’s ComEd case and vehemently denied sexual harassment allegations that were lobbed against him nearly five years earlier.
During his testimony in March, prosecutors played a wiretapped phone call in which McClain suggested he was speaking on Madigan’s behalf when he asked Lang to consider retiring.
“So this is no longer me talking,” McClain said in that November 2018 call. “I’m an agent of somebody that cares deeply about you, who thinks that you really oughta move on.”
The trial continues at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association