Revealed: FBI investigation into Chicago corruption secretly recorded the boss of bosses in Illinois politics

I hate to raise expectations prematurely, but this could be really big.  Not only Chicago, but the entire state of Illinois has been a cesspool of political corruption as long as anyone alive can remember, all of it a subsidiary of the Democratic Party, even when, as occasionally happens, a Republican occupies the governor's office.  For the first time, there is a hint that a long-running federal investigation may actually target the real power at the center of it all.

Late last year came news that the FBI raided the office of Alderman Ed Burke, taking boxes and boxes of records.  Burke, who is in his fiftieth year in office as an alderman, is widely regarded as the most powerful member of the City Council, a power who has outlasted every mayor, quietly running things while the more visible mayor takes the brickbats.

Now comes shocking news that another powerful member of the Chicago City Council, Alderman Danny Solis (who is retiring – gee, I wonder why!) has been wearing a wire for the feds for two years.

Retiring Ald. Danny Solis (25th) received sex acts, Viagra, free weekend use of an Indiana farm once owned by Oprah Winfrey and a steady stream of campaign contributions in exchange for shepherding official City Council actions, according to allegations in a federal court affidavit obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

The allegations are contained in an explosive search warrant application that helps explain why Solis, the powerful chairman of the City Council's Zoning Committee, agreed to spend more than two years cooperating in a federal investigation during which he is known to have secretly recorded at least a dozen conversations with Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), the former chairman of the City Council's Finance Committee.

Although no charges have been filed publicly against Solis, the 2016 affidavit lays out in detail a federal corruption case against the veteran alderman, who was one of the closest City Council allies of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Emanuel's predecessor, Richard M. Daley.

The paragraph that follows immediately is what has gotten my attention:

It also alleges that among the people recorded as part of the Solis investigation was Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, the longest-serving state House speaker in the country.

Michael Madigan (photo credit: YouTube screen grab).

The Sun-Times follows up with a second article devoted to the Madigan revelation:

The FBI secretly recorded Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan trying to get business for his private law firm from a developer brought to him by Ald. Danny Solis, who was weighing the developer's request to build a hotel in Chinatown, according to a federal court affidavit obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

The affidavit makes clear for the first time that the federal investigation that has snared powerful Chicago Ald. Edward M. Burke extends beyond City Hall and into the Illinois statehouse, examining politicians' longstanding practice of merging personal and political business. ...

Madigan, who isn't facing any criminal charges, was recorded by an associate of the developer during a meeting at Madigan's law office that Solis had arranged, according to the affidavit. That associate, who'd been secretly working for the feds, made a "video and audio recording" of the meeting, which occurred in 2014.

In a statement through his attorney on Monday, Madigan denied any wrongdoing and "to our knowledge, neither the speaker nor his law firm is under investigation."

Maybe this is all innocent, and Madigan will continue doing the business he has done for 50 years.  But – be still, my heart! – we now know that the feds have been squeezing some pretty important people with threats of prosecution and long prison sentences (Robert Mueller didn't invent this tactic) and getting them to wear a wire.

The fact that Solis wore a wire for two years, and as chair of the zoning committee was at the heart of Chicago corruption, raises some really interesting possibilities for identifying big fish.

Madigan for his part, is impossible to overstate in terms of real political power and secret deals in Illinois.  He holds the all-time record for heading a legislative body in the United States, having been speaker of the Illinois State House of Representatives every year since 1983 except for two.