'The speaker gets to do what he wants to do,' Michael Madigan is heard saying on secret recording
CHICAGO - A close, longtime staffer for former Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan took the stand in the ComEd bribery trial Thursday, testifying under immunity about secretly recorded 2018 discussions about House leadership in which a longtime Madigan confidant participated.
Will Cousineau, who served as the speaker’s issues director and as political director of the Democratic Party of Illinois, is the closest person to Madigan that jurors have heard from so far.
Cousineau took the stand 50 minutes before the trial broke for lunch. He said he considered his rank in Madigan’s world to be just below the likes of Madigan confidant Michael McClain, former Madigan chief of staff Tim Mapes and onetime Madigan spokesman Steve Brown.
Cousineau told jurors he received an immunity letter from the U.S. Attorney’s office at the request of his lawyers, Michael Del Galdo and Sean Sullivan. Such a letter would typically prevent a witness from invoking the Fifth Amendment on the witness stand.
Del Galdo has longtime ties to Madigan’s political operation.
The testimony came during the federal trial of McClain and three other former political power players: Former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-ComEd lobbyist John Hooker, and onetime City Club President Jay Doherty.
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The four are accused of trying to bribe Madigan by landing his associates money, jobs and contracts in order to sway the then-powerful speaker while legislation crucial to ComEd moved through the statehouse.
Critical to the case is whether McClain acted as an agent of Madigan and passed along his demands, as well as Madigan’s ability to kill legislation in the House in a variety of ways.
During the first 50 minutes of Cousineau’s testimony, jurors heard snippets from a secretly recorded Dec. 9, 2018 conversation. Madigan discussed, with members of his staff, leadership assignments ahead of the new Illinois General Assembly that would be sworn into office in January 2019.
Madigan told the group that "in the case of the majority leader, I view that as my appointment. I have no compunction about saying that to anyone who wants to listen to me."
He explained that the majority leader plays "a key role in House operations."
"I understand we have a lot of people walking around trying to find things to complain about, and every once in a while, the speaker gets to do what he wants to do," Madigan said. "Every once in a while."
McClain, a longtime ComEd lobbyist, had formally retired as a lobbyist two years earlier. But jurors have heard tape of McClain complaining in 2018 about performing "assignments" for the speaker following that retirement.
McClain was never a member of the speaker’s staff. Still, McClain was on the Dec. 9, 2018 phone call and spoke up with suggestions for the speaker. He suggested the speaker develop committees with strong chairs who could withstand political attacks.
"You don’t have to kill a bill or amendment in rules," McClain said.
The reference was to the House rules committee — where bills often died if they weren’t assigned out.
Rather, McClain said Madigan could find committee chairs "strong enough" to put bills "in a ‘working subcommittee.’"
Cousineau explained to jurors that a bill could be "parked" in such a subcommittee and ultimately die.
Madigan told his team that "our function for the next several weeks is to think on this stuff, exchange ideas as we’ve done today, and the goal is to make as many people as happy as possible."
Another former Madigan staffer whom Cousineau ranked above himself — Mapes — also received immunity to testify before the grand jury that had been investigating Madigan.
Mapes appeared before the grand jury on March 31, 2021 but allegedly gave false answers. He’s since been charged with perjury and attempted obstruction of justice. His trial is set for Aug. 7.
U.S. District Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer issued an order granting Mapes immunity, meaning he was not excused from testifying on the grounds that he might incriminate himself, according to Mapes’ indictment.
Madigan faces a separate racketeering indictment, and his trial is set for April 2024.