By: Mark Glennon*
FURTHER UPDATE 2/4/19: And now Crain’s is reporting that the Sun-Times defied a court order not to print what was in the affidavit. The Sun-Times got the affidavit, which was supposed to be confidential, because it was accidentally posted on a public website. The Sun-Times may have had the legal right to do so, but why is that appropriate when publication would presumably endanger the rest of the investigation? In addition, our objections below about dribbling out the contents still stand.
UPDATE 2/4/19: This story is being continually updated because the Chicago Sun-Times is repeatedly dribbling out additional information of the key affidavit described below, which only the Sun-Times has. We believe that’s improper because material pertinent to Chicago’s elections, where early voting is already taking place, has been withheld.
Today, the Sun-Times released a further story focused on four particular Alderman up for reelection who are mentioned in the affidavit in a manner many voters would view as negative. Details are included below. What else is being withheld? What other candidates might be incriminated or vindicated? We believe the Sun-Times should either release the entire affidavit or immediately release all of it that properly can be released, together with an explanation.
And see our Quicktake linked here about whether the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics applies.
It appears to contain more hard evidence of political corruption than Illinois has seen in a generation. It’s a single affidavit, 120-pages long, signed in 2016 by an FBI special agent, and it’s the basis of all the bombshell news this week.
But only the Chicago Sun-Times has it. It’s not public record and we don’t know all that’s in it. Why not?
“Bombshell” isn’t an overstatement. “Viagra, sex acts, use of a luxury farm” by a Chicago alderman, but that was just the start. Because the primary subject, Chicago Alderman Danny Solis, was wired and tens of thousands of his communications overheard, a cloud hangs over other top politicians, starting with House Speaker Michael Madigan and already-indicted Alderman Ed Burke. Most importantly, they include certain mayoral candidates who, like Solis, are part of the Chicago’s Machine.
The secrecy of the affidavit raises a host of questions about how things work and how they should work. Maybe there’s nothing improper in any of this but, unquestionably, the questions should be asked.
First among those questions is why the Sun-Times hasn’t released the whole thing. Shouldn’t we be able to see it? Early voting started Tuesday for Chicago’s mayoral and aldermanic elections, and few things are more pertinent than the affidavit. What else is in it?
The Sun-Times’ first article appeared on January 30, 2019 with important information from the affidavit. A second article that same day emphasized the portions of the affidavit indicating that Madigan had been recorded. Both were quickly cited by other media.
But important additional content from the affidavit didn’t appear until a Sun-Times article on January 30 about Solis’ use of campaign cash for tuition, toddler togs and trips to Mario Tricoci. Another Sun-Times article that day focused on the role of a particular real estate developer, also not mentioned in the previous day’s articles. Another dribble came out on February 1 with new information describing the affidavit’s description of the alleged place of Brian Hynes in the middle of the Solis investigation.
And today, February 4, the Sun-Times published an article headlined, “Aldermen named in secretly recorded chat admit sending business to Reyes’ firm.” The article unquestionably contains information about those four alderman, not previously published, that many voters would find important. Some of those voters, however, may have already cast their ballots.
The Sun-Times may have perfectly good reasons for not releasing the entire affidavit. Maybe its source so required, or maybe the Feds, who I would hope the Sun-Times talked to, asked that certain things be kept quiet in light of the ongoing investigations. Maybe the copy it obtained has redactions.
But is there any reason for the Sun-Times to be dribbling out the affidavit’s contents? The impulse to sell as many papers and pageviews is understandable, which I suspect is the reason, but when does that give way to the public’s need to see the whole thing? There’s an election going on. Is there more to come? Some readers here suspect the Sun-Times is holding or releasing information based on which candidates it likes.
Further questions arise when you consider who might have leaked the affidavit and why. With the affidavit being three-years old and the underlying investigation five-years old, it would be understandable if some Feds are asking whether the public should know at least some of what they’ve found. Maybe one of them leaked it for that reason. That’s a tough situation for a prosecutor to be in, not unlike the release of information about the investigation over Hillary Clinton’s emails just before the presidential election, which caused a firestorm of controversy.
But maybe the three-year old affidavit is outdated and the Feds have since found exculpatory evidence that would remove the cloud from some of Solis’s associates. In other words, did somebody with an agenda selectively leak only the incriminating material the Feds have? Maybe somebody with access to the affidavit is friendly towards a mayoral candidate who is not part of the Machine, hoping to dirty up candidates who are part of the Machine — Toni Preckwinkle, Susanna Mendoza, Bill Daley and Gary Chico.
Other open questions are endless. Did the release of the affidavit indeed jeopardize other parts of the investigation? Or maybe the release helped by encouraging other witnesses to speak up. Maybe there are other witnesses the Feds are trying to lean on for cooperation. Leaking the affidavit could be part of that effort.
We may never have answers to those questions unless we someday know who leaked it and why.
Aside from Chicago’s election according to the Sun-Times, “The affidavit makes clear for the first time that the federal investigation…extends beyond City Hall and into the Illinois statehouse….”
One thing is for sure: I wouldn’t want to be the U.S. Attorney for Illinois’ Northern District, who I presume is wrestling with some of these questions. He, or somebody in the Justice Department, will have to decide what’s fair in light of publication of what’s only a tiny piece of a massive collection of evidence in an unfinished investigation. The answers aren’t easy.
*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.