One of Michael Madigan’s top former lieutenants told a federal jury Thursday that last-minute arm-twisting orchestrated by the powerful speaker on the House floor in 2016 made the difference between passing a major bill backed by Commonwealth Edison or coming up several votes short.
Will Cousineau, a lobbyist and longtime political director on Madigan’s Democratic staff, is the first person to testify in the “ComEd Four” trial that Madigan’s behind-the-scenes push changed the outcome of a bill that the utility giant desperately wanted passed.
Cousineau testified he warned Madigan only days before the vote that a projected roll call showed the legislation did not have the 60 votes necessary to pass in the legislative fall veto session. Also on that phone call was Michael McClain, a ComEd contract lobbyist and one of Madigan’s longtime confidants, Cousineau said.
Madigan, he said, set in motion a full-court press in which Cousineau and his staff ginned up enough support from lawmakers and advocates who could help turn the tide.
Tying specific instances of Madigan’s alleged influence on the ComEd legislation is key to the prosecution’s case in the trial, where four Madigan associates are accused of conspiring to bribe the powerful speaker to help the company’s legislative agenda.
Defense attorneys have argued that what prosecutors alleged was bribery was nothing more than honest, legal political lobbying, and that there was no evidence Madigan did anything to directly help ComEd.
When Cousineau was asked, however, whether Madigan’s direction to “go out and work the bill” made a difference, he answered, “I think it was a part of it, yes.”
A ComEd employee previously testified that the FEJA legislation alone earned the company at least $1.8 billion in revenues.
Cousineau, now with the Washington-based lobbying firm Cornerstone Government Affairs, is the closest person to Madigan to testify so far in the trial, which wrapped up its second week at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Thursday.
Charged in the case are McClain; former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore; John Hooker, a longtime ComEd lobbyist; and Jay Doherty, a ComEd lobbyist and previous chief of the City Club of Chicago.
The indictment alleged ComEd poured $1.3 million into payments funneled to ghost “subcontractors” who were actually Madigan’s cronies, put a Madigan-backed candidate 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 and help the utility’s legislative agenda in Springfield.
Prosecutors also alleged that ComEd agreed to hire and then renew a contract for the Reyes Kurson law firm, headed by longtime Madigan associate Victor Reyes, to curry favor with the speaker.
Madigan and McClain, meanwhile, are facing separate racketeering charges alleging an array of corrupt schemes, including the bribery plot by ComEd.
Testifying in a quiet voice and appearing uncomfortable on the stand, Cousineau said he received an immunity letter from prosecutors assuring he would not be charged if he gave “honest testimony.” Such a letter also typically makes it difficult for a witness to invoke constitutional protections against self-incrimination.
During the testimony, Cousineau’s attorney, Michael Del Galdo, sat in the front row of U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber’s courtroom. Del Galdo has long ties to Madigan’s political operation.
In addition to his testimony about the FEJA legislation, Cousineau offered the jury an insider look at Madigan’s political operation, including private meetings with his inner circle of advisers to discuss legislative and campaign strategy — at least one of which was secretly recorded by the FBI.
Cousineau testified about the political “A-Team” that made up Madigan’s vaunted 13th Ward operation, including Ray Nice, former Ald. Frank Olivo, current 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn, and precinct captains and twin brothers Ed and Fred Moody, whom he would dispatch to key races to knock on doors and deliver votes.
“We would typically assign them to some of our hardest races,” he said.
Ed Moody, the onetime Cook County recorder of deeds, is expected to testify for prosecutors later in the trial.
Cousineau told the jury that McClain kept a “magic list” of lobbyists and others who had been helpful to the speaker over the years, a handwritten ledger on paper from the boutique Talbott Hotel in Chicago’s Gold Coast.
“If there was an opportunity where somebody wanted to hire somebody to help them with a project, Mike would ask them if they want(ed) to use that list,” he testified.
On cross-examination, McClain’s attorney, Patrick Cotter, noted that McClain often gave strange pet names to things, and that keeping track of people helpful to you or your caucus is a key to politics.
“So the magic list is just normal politics with a name Mike put on it right?” Cotter asked Cousineau.
After a pause, Cousineau said, “Yes.”
Prosecutors also played a wiretapped call between Cousineau and McClain 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.”
Listen to the audio:
According to Cousineau, McClain was a key adviser to Madigan and debated a variety of issues, from which lawmakers to anoint with committee chairmanships to key appointments on the speaker’s leadership team.
Earlier in Cousineau’s testimony, prosecutors played several snippets from a recording of one of Madigan’s “Sunday morning meetings,” where he forged strategy with an elite group of government staffers and lobbyists, including McClain and Cousineau.
Also on the December 2018 call was Madigan’s chief of staff Jessica Basham, Madigan general counsel Justin Cox, Heather Wier Vaught, his former counsel who’d just become a lobbyist for ComEd, and issues director Craig Willert, who followed Cousineau into the highly political spot on the speaker’s staff.
On the recording, which took place shortly after Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner lost to Democrat J.B. Pritzker, Madigan talked about demands various caucuses in the House were making regarding committee assignments and leadership posts.
Madigan insisted that he is the one who gets to appoint the majority leader — no one else.
“I understand we have a lot of people walking around trying to find things to complain about, but every once in a while the speaker gets to do what he wants to do,” Madigan said.
After Madigan remarked that the call wasn’t sparking much conversation, McClain spoke up, delivering a lengthy analysis of the political situation, including legislation expected to be pushed by adversaries in the new session, which would call for strong committee chairs who could “withstand pressure.”
McClain’s ideas included “parking” controversial bills in subcommittees rather than in the Rules Committee, which is controlled by Madigan. That way, he said, Madigan’s “fingerprints” wouldn’t be on it when the bills are killed.
Madigan told the team near the end of the call to “think it through in terms of how we can work with all of these things to make as many people as happy as possible.”
Prosecutors sought to show the broad influence McClain had with Madigan, with testimony that the lobbyist contracted to work for ComEd and other major clients had a higher level of access to the speaker than all other lobbyists.
Through the recordings and Cousineau’s testimony, prosecutors drove home that McClain played an active role in shaping the speaker’s legislative agenda and choosing the lawmakers who would head up important committees.
McClain’s role was particularly crucial in run-up to the 2016 FEJA vote. Cousineau said Madigan established an “internal working group” on the FEJA legislation that included one outsider: McClain.
“Certainly I remember (McClain) explaining the things that ComEd was trying to accomplish with the legislation, but I think the speaker also trusted him,” Cousineau said.
Cousineau said McClain played a dual role in those meetings, advocating ComEd’s position while simultaneously advising Madigan on strategy to get the FEJA bill passed.
As an attendee of those meetings, McClain was plugged into the private information coming out of the speaker’s office, including preliminary crucial roll calls used to gauge where the legislation stood.
On Nov. 27, 2016, four days before the FEJA vote, Cousineau emailed McClain a list of all the House members who would not be present for the final day of the veto session. The numbers were not in ComEd’s favor, he said.
“At some point I had a conversation with the speaker and told him without engagement directly from our office that the bill wasn’t going to have enough votes to pass,” he said.
On the speaker’s orders, he started twisting arms with interest groups and other House members directly, he said, making Madigan’s wishes crystal clear.
The last-minute mobilization changed the outcome. The bill passed the house on Dec. 1, 2016, on a 63-38 vote. Madigan did not cast a vote.
Cousineau testified that he stayed close to Madigan even after moving on from the speaker’s office, sometimes consulting with him on races or when other issues arose.
The Tribune previously reported Cousineau was among a group of utility lobbyists that McClain gathered together to give at least $31,000 in contracts to 13th Ward lieutenant Kevin Quinn after he was ousted by Madigan in a 2018 sexual harassment scandal. Quinn is the brother of Marty Quinn, Madigan’s hand-picked 13th Ward alderman.
Cousineau was a lobbyist for ComEd until shortly after the Tribune disclosed in 2019 that Cornerstone had been subpoenaed in the investigation.
On Wednesday, Tom O’Neill, former general counsel for ComEd, testified that Pramaggiore was pushing to give an executive level job to Cousineau, but the utility eventually took a pass because he was asking for too much money.
Cousineau, meanwhile, testified that after he was lowballed by ComEd at first, Pramaggiore tried to get him to reconsider moving to Cornerstone by upping the offer and adding a signing bonus. He said it still wasn’t enough.
During his testimony, jurors were shown text messages between Cousineau and another longtime Madigan staffer, Shaw Decremer, who’d worked on the speaker’s political campaigns for years.
In the messages, Decremer attached photos of checks being cut to 13th Ward campaign workers, including one for Ed Moody and another for ex-state Rep. Eddie Acevedo, D-Chicago. Another check for $14,250 came from ComEd. “That’s going to be what you make in a week!!!” Decremer wrote to Cousineau.
“I wish!!!” Cousineau shot back. “As long as I don’t have a inch of employees to pay out of my check, I’ll be OK.”
Decremer was tossed from Madigan’s political operation in 2018 after he was accused of abusive behavior during the campaign — but not sexual harassment.
In earlier testimony Thursday, a key official with Commonwealth Edison explained how McClain played an intricate role in putting together a fundraiser that company executives threw for the Democratic Party of Illinois, where Madigan doubled as chairman, that included glowing remarks from Pramaggiore.
Keisha Parker, now vice president of external affairs for ComEd, told jurors in the “ComEd Four” bribery trial that she helped raise funds for the September 2012 event and wrote a draft speech for Pramaggiore that called Madigan “an asset to Illinois and all of us in this room.”
The goal for the fundraiser was to raise $125,000 for the Democratic Party of Illinois, one of Madigan’s key campaign war chests. Among the biggest donors: Roosevelt Group, headed by Reyes, whose law firm was hired by ComEd in what prosecutors alleged was a scheme to win Madigan’s influence.
The “internal hosts” of the event — which took place less than a year after ComEd’s “smart grid” legislation became law — included Pramaggiore, then-Exelon CEO Chris Crane, and Crane’s No. 2 at Exelon, Bill Von Hoene, Parker said.
Parker testified she was at the event, but does not recall whether Pramaggiore used the exact words that were in the draft. But her words were definitely “positive” toward Madigan, she said.
In her testimony, Parker told the jury that she was tasked in 2014 with adding Ed Moody to Doherty’s consulting contract with ComEd. Moody, she said, was a “subcontractor,” and since ComEd didn’t have enough funds in its consulting budget to cover it, they had to take money from Pramaggiore’s budget.
Moody was hired at a rate of $4,500 a month. According to prosecutors, Moody did next to nothing for ComEd over they next several years, but the money kept rolling in.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane MacArthur also took Parker through a series of emails related to fundraisers that were being organized by McClain as well as general thoughts from Parker and her colleagues about the political situation in Springfield.
In one email string from July 2015 about an upcoming fundraiser for DPI, Parker wrote: “It’s technically super early. And that’s also why I recommend going through McClain first. He’s the puppet master that puts this all together and typically gives her the heads up.”
That August, Parker wrote to a colleague: “McClain … Speaker- they are the same. Ha.” Later, she emailed another colleague, saying, “Whew! I’m tired just listening to all the work McClain is putting in to jerk us around.”
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And in the wake of Rauner’s election in November 2014, one of Parker’s colleagues wondered whether there had been a power shift in Springfield. “I just asked (Emily) if Madigan is still in the driver’s seat? I mean what about Rauner???” a colleague asked in one email shown to the jury.
Parker responded: “You know Daddy is in charge. (Rauner) who??!!”
Parker testified that by “Daddy,” she meant Madigan.
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