Miller: Illinois House dawdles while Rep. Smith dangles
By Rich Miller April 29, 2012 2:50PM
Updated: June 1, 2012 8:10AM
State Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago) may have more legal troubles than his federal bribery indictment.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has told the House Special Investigating Committee that his office’s investigation of Smith has not concluded.
“I can tell you that our investigation of Representative Smith is continuing,” Fitzgerald wrote, which could be an indication that the government may file more charges.
But the active federal investigation also means that Fitzgerald refused to cooperate with the committee, which is looking into the allegations to determine if any legislative action is warranted against Smith. Fitzgerald also asked the committee to not do any investigating beyond what already is in the public record, except for interviewing Smith himself.
Smith cannot be forced to testify to the special committee, but that refusal can be held against him when it comes time to recommend whether punitive action should be taken.
Fitzgerald wrote his letter April 10, but the committee didn’t meet to discuss it until 16 days later. Another hearing may not happen for a couple of weeks. This thing is in real danger of dragging on through the summer if the committee doesn’t get its act together soon.
Last week, a member of the House committee privately defended the slow process to date, pointing to the time it took to kick former Gov. Rod Blagojevich out of office.
But Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 8, 2008 and removed from office by the Senate on Jan. 29, 2009 — a total of 53 days start to finish, including House impeachment hearings, two House impeachment votes (one before and one after new members were sworn in), Senate hearings and a full Senate trial and vote to remove.
Smith was arrested March 13, 45 days before last week’s special committee meeting. By Blagojevich standards, Smith should be removed from office by the end of this week. But as I write this, the House doesn’t appear to be close to completing the first small step in the process.
The special committee is the initial step in the process of removal (or other punishment). If it decides that punishment is warranted, another committee will be appointed to decide what punishment, if any, should be meted out. Then the full House has to debate and vote on the matter. It’ll take a two-thirds majority vote to expel Smith.
There are indications that at least some Democratic members of the House committee aren’t completely convinced that this is a slam-dunk case. As if being arrested after allegedly accepting $7,000 in cash in exchange for providing an official letter of recommendation and having it all caught on tape somehow isn’t enough to warrant some sort of punishment for Smith.
I mean, even if the guy was entrapped (and the feds are pretty good about avoiding that), he’s still heard on an FBI tape while a “cooperating witness” counts out a pile of cash for him.
Cooperating witness: “One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Damn, stuck together. Six. Seven. Talk to you later.”
Smith: “You don’t want me to give you yours now? ... I’m gonna get you your two, man!”
I can understand why House members don’t want to set a dangerous precedent of kicking out a fellow member after only an arrest. I completely agree that such a radical move should definitely not be a blanket policy.
But Smith was indicted on federal bribery charges directly related to his official legislative duties. This was not a drunken driving case or some minor crime relating to his personal life or something trumped up by a local, partisan prosecutor.
A recent statewide poll I’ve seen shows that just 29 percent of likely Illinois voters approve of the job that the Legislature is doing, while 61 percent disapprove. Endless dawdling on the Smith case won’t do anything to improve that pathetic standing with the public. It’s time to get this Smith inquiry moving, already.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com