Committee left in the dark
SPRINGFIELD (AP) – U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald won’t share evidence with a legislative committee looking into bribery allegations against a state representative or give the committee the go-ahead for its own investigation, lawmakers said Thursday.
The prosecutor’s decision creates a difficult situation for the committee, which is considering the possibility of removing state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, from office. It can’t see what led Fitzgerald to file criminal charges against Smith, it can’t conduct its own investigation, and there’s little chance Smith will agree to testify.
“The committee’s hands are significantly tied by the criminal proceedings and [Fitzgerald’s] desire for us to not interfere with that by doing our own investigation,” said state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, chairwoman of the special investigative committee.
The committee may have to base its final decision on whatever information comes out in court appearances and documents.
Smith, charged with accepting a $7,000 bribe to help a day care center obtain a state grant, is expected to plead not guilty on Monday. Committee members expect the plea to come with a motion giving the first outline of Smith’s response to the federal charges.
Until then, “we’re kind of in the dark,” state Rep. Dennis Reboletti, a Republican committee member from Elmhurst.
The committee is supposed to review Smith’s conduct and make a recommendation on what punishment, if any, the House should impose. It had asked Fitzgerald to share information, such as the grant letter Smith is accused of writing in exchange for the bribe or the name of the confidential source who helped the federal investigation.
Fitzgerald denied the committee’s request in a letter, saying that might “interfere with our pending case and ongoing investigation.”
“I’d like to have as much evidence as possible,” said Nekritz, D-Northbrook. “That’s simply not the case right now.”
While the committee waits to see what happens in court or what evidence the court will share, it can ask Smith to testify. Smith could refuse to speak to the committee, under his constitutional right to not incriminate himself.
Although a court can’t consider refusal to testify as evidence or an indication of guilt, the committee could consider it as a factor when it decides if he should be expelled. The committee will ask Smith to testify at a hearing within the next 2 weeks.
Nekrtiz said she is keeping a short-term view of the case for now. “It’s very hard to predict months out how that’s going to play out because it could dramatically change next week,” she said.
Smith did not attend the committee hearing. He was in his seat on the House floor, but refused to speak with reporters.