Recordings in ComEd Four case show Madigan playing political hardball as trial pivots to week two

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Michael Madigan was still the House speaker and most powerful politician in the state in early November 2018 when he called a longtime confidant for a rundown of the latest thorny political issues.

After Madigan’s friend, Michael McClain, remarked “today’s not a slow day for you,” the speaker laughed.

“Oh, it’s — it’s been crazy around here,” Madigan said.

It turns out Madigan, the iron-fisted leader often touted for his ability to see three moves ahead, had no idea how crazy things really were.

Not only was the FBI listening in on that call, within weeks, two agents would knock on the door of a top Commonwealth Edison executive and convince him to cooperate in a burgeoning bribery investigation implicating the speaker.

And that spring, investigators executed a series of raids on McClain’s home in Quincy, the City Club of Chicago, and other locations around Chicago that marked the end-game of a yearslong investigation into Madigan and his vaunted political organization.

Prosecutors played the call between Madigan and McClain for the first time last week in the trial of the “ComEd Four,” charged with funneling at least $1.3 million to his hand-picked Madigan associates in exchange for the powerful speaker’s influence over legislation the utility giant wanted passed, or blocked, in Springfield.

On trial are McClain, 75, an ex-ComEd lobbyist; former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, 64; ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker, 73; and Jay Doherty, 69, a lobbyist and consultant who formerly led the City Club of Chicago.

The indictment in the case alleged ComEd poured $1.3 million into payments funneled to ghost “subcontractors” who were actually Madigan’s cronies, put a Madigan-backed person on the ComEd board, and gave coveted internships to families in his 13th Ward, all part of an elaborate scheme to keep the speaker happy.

The defendants’ attorneys contend that the so-called scheme was nothing more than legal lobbying, part of the state’s high-stakes, often-messy politics where myriad interest groups and stakeholders compete for access to lawmakers.

Madigan and McClain, meanwhile, are facing separate racketeering charges alleging an array of corrupt schemes, including the bribery plot by ComEd.

The recordings played for the jury Thursday were the first of what’s expected to be more than a hundred wiretapped phone calls and secretly recorded meetings that prosecutors have said will lay out the scheme in the defendants’ own…

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