Evidence seen and heard by the jury – Chicago Tribune

The “ComEd Four” trial recordings have given jurors — and the public — the ultimate insider glimpse into how the famously reclusive former House Speaker Michael Madigan conducted his business.

The more than 100 secretly recorded phone calls and meetings, which were gleaned from wiretaps and confidential informants over the course of more than a year, form the backbone of the case, one of the most highly watched political trials in Illinois for years.

The recordings played in court so far show how closely Madigan worked with longtime confidant Michael McClain, a former ComEd contract lobbyist on everything from political strategy to major legislation important to the speaker.

They also portrayed in colorful relief Madigan and McClain playing hardball, plotting the forced resignation of a longtime ally and talking about delivering “body blows” to Madigan’s counterpart in the Senate over a perceived political slight.

Along with McClain, 75, the other members of the “ComEd Four” are 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. McClain and Madigan are charged in a separate corruption case that is tied to the ComEd scandal.

The indictment alleged the “ComEd Four” schemed to shower Madigan allies with jobs, contracts, internships and legal work to woo the now-indicted ex-speaker into looking favorably at ComEd’s Springfield agenda.

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.

Despite nearly four decades at the helm of Illinois politics, ex-House Speaker Michael Madigan’s voice was rarely heard publicly, outside of an occasional news conference or speech on the House floor.

But Madigan’s voice echoed through a Chicago federal courtroom on March 16 as prosecutors played a series of undercover recordings showing how the then-powerful speaker muscled out one of his longtime allies, Lou Lang, to stave off a potentially new sexual harassment scandal.

Former Illinois Senate President John Cullerton’s name surfaced in recorded conversations between former House Speaker Michael Madigan and his longtime confidant, Michael McClain, talking about a 2018 political dispute that had brewed largely out of the public eye.

Madigan complained about a political ad critical of him and tied to Senate Democrats that Cullerton led in 2018, saying that the attacks should be aimed at President Donald Trump and other Republicans rather than the speaker, who doubled as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

In a secretly recorded telephone call in July 2018, McClain opened by saying bluntly, “Sorry about that stupid Cullerton move.” After Madigan asked, “What’s your take on what I should do?” McClain suggested letting him and other allies of the speaker hammer Cullerton with “body blows.”

McClain told Madigan on the recording that the longtime lobbyist had sent Cullerton a text expressing displeasure and that sooner or later Cullerton had to be told it is “(expletive) inappropriate.”

Prosecutors also played a wiretapped call between Will Cousineau, a lobbyist and longtime political director on Madigan’s Democratic staff, and Michael McClain, a ComEd contract lobbyist and one of Madigan’s longtime confidants, from 2018, shortly after Cousineau had left the speaker’s office for his role in lobbying, which included working on ComEd issues.

“How’s the dark side?” McClain asked on the call.

“It’s stressful in a different way,” Cousineau replied.

“As long as we remember who our real client is,” McClain said, “it’s not easy but it mollifies it.”

Prosecutors played a May 2018 recording between retired lobbyist Michael McClain and former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore. in which he informed her the speaker wanted her to keep pressing to get former McPier boss Juan Ochoa appointed to the ComEd board and Mike Zalewski on a contract.

“OK got it. I will keep pressing,” Pramaggiore said.

McClain told Pramaggiore on the call that when he talked to Madigan about Ochoa’s potential financial problems, the speaker’s response was that “Harry Truman filed for bankruptcy” too.

Pramaggiore laughed. “It is classic him! I love it. And he would know that, you know?” she said.

Shortly after being confronted by FBI agents in 2019 and deciding to cooperate in an ongoing bribery probe, then-ComEd Senior Vice President Fidel Marquez secretly videotaped a lunch meeting in Springfield with one of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s most trusted confidants.

The FBI had instructed Marquez to ask Madigan’s associate, Michael McClain, what he should tell ComEd’s new CEO about their scheme to funnel payments to a roster of Madigan-approved allies through a consulting company owned by Jay Doherty, a longtime ComEd contract lobbyist.

Other potentially damaging videos played in court included a conversation where Doherty acknowledged to Marquez that the Madigan guys he’d been paying as subcontractors did nothing for him on a day-to-day basis but “keep their mouth shut.”

Another video played in court showed a meeting at Marquez’s ComEd office on Feb. 13, 2019, where Doherty explained the origins of the scheme to slip the cadre of Madigan-backed subcontractors onto his own lobbying contract with ComEd.

Jurors also listened to a recorded call between Marquez and former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore from Feb. 16, 2019, that contained candid conversation after she left ComEd to become CEO of Exelon Utilities, including how she wanted Marquez to avoid seeing the subcontractor issue blow up while ComEd still had legislation pending in Springfield.

Prosecutors played a recording where then-House Speaker Michael Madigan’s longtime confidant, Michael McClain quizzed former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore about finding a job for Tim Mapes.

Madigan dumped Mapes from his three roles as chief of staff, House clerk and executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois in June 2018 when a clerk working for Mapes accused him of sexual harassment, bullying and creating an uncomfortable atmosphere.

Marquez and Pramaggiore were later captured in another recording discussing whether Mapes was employable at ComEd or Exelon.

“I keep thinking about how we can be helpful to (Mapes),” Pramaggiore said. “It’s hard to do anything directly.”

The shockingly abrupt end to House Speaker Michael Madigan’s nearly four-decade reign over Illinois politics was only two years away when a trio of key players in the ongoing “ComEd Four” trial gathered in early 2019 for a secretly recorded conference call.

Unaware of the bribery investigation swirling around them, Anne Pramaggiore and Michael McClain were planning a bright future in Madigan’s good graces. First, though, they had to hash out a problem: Who was going to be their new point person to maintain the cozy relationship with Madigan and keep the legislative wins coming?

“We’re in a conundrum,” McClain, the former ComEd lobbyist and longtime Madigan confidant, said on the Feb. 22, 2019, call, which was played in the courtroom last week.

They were joined on the call by senior ComEd executive Fidel Marquez, who went along with the strategy session as he had many times in his seven years managing the utility’s legislative affairs team.

Prosecutors in the “ComEd Four” trial played more than a dozen wiretapped calls showing in vivid detail how lobbyist Michael McClain served as the key go-between for the utility and House Speaker Michael Madigan, handling everything from mundane hiring requests to high-level strategy for major energy legislation.

On one call from 2018, McClain boasted he’d been doing “assignments” for Madigan for 25 years and his name hardly ever appeared in the newspaper.

“I’m pretty discreet,” McClain said on the call.

The recordings, which were played back-to-back without a witness on the stand and ran for more than an hour, featured a who’s who of Madigan’s most trusted associates, including 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn, former state Rep. John Bradley, former top staffer Shaw Decremer, as well as the speaker’s son, Andrew.

“There is no one right now that I can actually tell our friend that this is our lead (person), and that when you call, that guy will snap to and know what to do and get back to you,” McClain told co-defendants Anne Pramaggiore, ComEd’s former CEO, and lobbyist John Hooker, on one call.

Madigan also seemed to want to know, asking McClain on two separate calls played for the jury who was going to “drive the bus” on a bill being pushed by ComEd affiliate Exelon Generation.