"We're on a road to nowhere."
–Talking Heads

"Same as it ever was."
Talking Heads

There are 200 million reasons why the state House of Representatives should convene a special investigative committee to probe House Speaker Michael Madigan, but only The Fifth matters.

That, no doubt, is what the speaker will invoke when and if he's put under oath to testify before the bipartisan committee set to have its first meeting Sept. 10. Republicans say they want to get to the bottom of a bribery scheme that energy giant ComEd has acknowledged by agreeing to pay a $200 million fine and promising to cooperate with federal prosecutors who, by appearances, have reached the end of their line in efforts to prove that Madigan is a duck, given that he looks like one and quacks like one and swims like one.

State Rep. Chris Welch, D-Not In Charge, has been named chairman of this investigative committee by State Rep. Greg Harris, D-Also Not In Charge, who is putative leader of the Illinois State House of Representatives. I discovered this last week, when, perhaps due to vagaries of fortune, the speaker's reaction to the committee's formation arrived in my email box before the GOP's announcement of same was delivered. And the GOP got the ball rolling.

"Rather than focusing on ways to get us out of Donald Trump's mess, Republicans have spent their time and dollars trying to convince people I am to blame for the type of corruption and unethical conduct Donald Trump emulates every day," the speaker thundered in a press release sent at taxpayer expense. "They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to convince people I am the problem so they don't have to own up to their allegiance to Donald Trump and their political party."

That's a neener-neener-neener, given there are laws that say public officials aren't supposed to use public dollars to promote, or denigrate, political candidates. Pounding home the point was an email from Harris.

"This is a political process, not an action by law enforcement, and the rules are not the same as a court proceeding," Harris wrote in a statement sent by the same Democratic House staffer who'd emailed Madigan's statement 10 minutes earlier.

Neener, neener, neener. Catch me if you can.

It is a good thing for Madigan and his apologists that the rules are not the same as in court proceedings, because courts often involve juries. Prosecutors would love to get Madigan before a jury, but if they had sufficient evidence, we'd be on that path by now. And so we are left with truth-seekers at the Capitol, where Madigan has ruled so long that he deserves a statue, perhaps of him playing poker with George Ryan, Rod Blagojevich, Dan Walker and other politicians who've served time for being scoundrels. The speaker hasn't been convicted of a crime, true, so let him be the dealer, if he is not already. If this seems overly harsh, perhaps an artwork that shows Madigan dancing across lily pads floating atop a pond of doom to Candyland on the far shore.

The investigative committee's formation, compelled by the GOP under House rules, is a political stunt, according to Madigan, who should know. It was the speaker who OK'd the formation of a committee, under the same House rules, that investigated former Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Ima Crook, whose House brethren expelled him in 2012, only to see him back in office a few months later when voters elected him. And when Smith – indicted for taking bribes to screw day care centers — ran for reelection in 2014, it was with Madigan's help, never mind pending charges, or that the speaker two years earlier had voted to expel him from the House. "We support incumbents," Madigan spokesman Steve Brown told the Chicago Sun-Times back then. Smith lost – even voters can't be fooled twice — and got a five-month prison sentence.

If nothing else, Madigan is an incumbent. He's also a lawyer, and so he knows better than to testify under penalty of perjury before a committee doomed to stalemate. Welch, whose district would elect Champ The Wonder Pug before it rejected an incumbent Democrat, has told Capitol News Illinois that Madigan can testify and otherwise participate "if he so chooses."

And that says everything we need to know. If Madigan's cronies haven't cracked under pressure from prosecutors, they aren't going to crack now, nor will Madigan, especially if he's allowed to say, "No thanks, I have a lunch date" if the committee invites him to testify. Subpoenas will be issued at the discretion of the committee chairman.

The best the GOP can hope for is that something new comes up that forces Madigan to the witness stand, where the speaker doubtless would invoke the Fifth Amendment and exercise his right to remain silent, given the pending criminal investigation. Footage of Madigan refusing to testify would be electoral gold for Republicans. And while they, and other citizens of Illinois, might be due their wish, they are not likely to get it.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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