Offices of powerful Chicago alderman raided by FBI
For 50 years, Alderman Ed Burke has walked the corridors of City Hall, a gigantic presence in Chicago politics. He got his start in the heyday of machine politics in the city, when Mayor Richard J. Daley wielded national power. Over the decades, he gained enormous influence, largely by wheeling and dealing through his considerable network of city power brokers in politics, business, and "The Organization" – the term used to described organized crime in the city.
Burke has been an expert in avoiding indictment and jail, largely because most of his business is conducted face to face. He has been smart, savvy, and one step ahead of authorities, who, several times, have sought to bring him down.
His aides have been indicted and convicted, his friends have gone to jail, but Burke has managed to outsmart prosecutors. Now his number may be up.
FBI agents raided his City Hall and ward offices yesterday and walked away with boxes and boxes of documents, as well as computers. Does the government finally have Ed Burke dead to rights?
Don't bet on it.
The scenario was a somewhat familiar one for Burke, Chicago's longest-serving politician known for his bold pinstripe suits, great political wealth and as half of one of the city's elite power couples. In his 50 years in politics, the Southwest Side alderman has been under federal scrutiny several times before, but never convicted or indicted.
"As you are aware, there have previously been several other investigations such as this. In every instance we cooperated fully. And in every instance nothing has been found," Burke said in a statement. "So once again, we will be cooperating fully, and I am completely confident that at the end of the day nothing will be found amiss in this instance either."
When the 74-year-old alderman arrived at his Southwest Side home late Thursday, he repeated variations of the same statement as reporters inquired about the investigation.
The FBI's Chicago office also had little to say about the matter, other than to confirm the searches. That set off parlor games among City Hall insiders about just which slice of Burke's political domain had once again fallen under the microscope.
Burke does business with a wink, a nod, and a handshake. Nothing illegal ever goes down on paper. He once said he always assumes his phone calls are being recorded.
Note that Burke never says he's innocent, only that "nothing has been found." That's part of his charm. He's a rogue, and he knows it, and he has been playing the part for decades.
One interesting note brought up about Burke is that he handled some tax matters for Donald Trump.
Nationally, media outlets and websites were quick to note that Burke once served as the attorney who appealed property taxes on behalf of President Donald Trump's Chicago tower before cutting those ties earlier this year. And the raids on Burke's office came on the same day the president's former attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a Trump project in Moscow as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
The timing of that development and the raid on Burke's offices led to rampant speculation that the searches were related to work Burke's law firm did for Trump. The Burke investigation, however, was being conducted in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago, not Mueller's office, said Joseph Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney John Lausch.
Authorities did not search Burke's law office Thursday, a law enforcement source told the Chicago Tribune. The investigation involves recent allegations and no arrests were made or are imminent, according to the source.
No, this has nothing to do with Trump. More likely, some disgruntled business associate tattled to the state's attorney, who has now launched an investigation. Every time it happens, political pundits and City Hall-watchers confidently predict that "this time," they've got him. But each time, Burke slips away, free to dispense favors, punish enemies, and make a lot of money for his friends.
Burke has become a Chicago institution and an example of how power corrupts. In a city where "clout" is not a dirty word, Burke has reigned supreme as the King of Clout.