Rich Miller

Rich Miller

This is real life, not a movie

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By Rich Miller

I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand why Tim Mapes allowed himself to be put into this situation.

Not one of the lies former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s former chief of staff is accused of telling a grand jury while under a grant of immunity was about illegal activity. During his two hours on the stand and through 650 questions, he was never once asked if he’d witnessed any sort of crime or suspected wrongdoing by others. And now he’s standing trial on federal charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

His alleged lies were in response to fairly benign queries, like, for instance: “Did [Madigan’s top lieutenant Mike McClain], after he retired, kind of give you any insight into what his interactions with [Madigan] were that you weren’t privy to personally?”

Mapes’ response: “No, that wouldn’t — that wouldn’t happen.”

RichMiller 1

Rich Miller

But it did happen. And the feds recorded quite a few instances of it happening.

That’s another thing about those questions: The feds didn’t ask Mapes anything they didn’t already know in advance.

Mapes knew all too well that the government was likely listening in. Mapes testified to the grand jury in February 2021. The Chicago Tribune reported as far back as November 2019 that investigators had tapped McClain’s mobile phone. McClain has since been convicted based in part on those very recordings.

The feds basically set a trap for Mapes with the grand jury. Mapes knew the trap was likely there, but then he jumped right in anyway.

Maybe he was just being a tough guy like in a gangster movie.

But this is real life, not a movie, and the man has a real-life family. He wasn’t being asked to say anything particularly incriminating of either Madigan or McClain.

The federal government doesn’t usually ask a judge to involuntarily impose immunity on a witness to compel grand jury testimony under oath if that witness has been cooperative during an investigation. I’ve assumed all along Mapes really ticked off government investigators during the interview process.

There are those who say Mapes was so arrogant after decades of amassing power that he couldn’t shake the habit while on the stand. His strict Madigan gate-keeper status (a sign on his office wall read: “Nobody gets in to see the Wizard”) may have naturally compelled him to mum up under questioning.

His non-answers to simple questions about whether Madigan had “any sort of esteem or regard” for the late Mayor Richard J. Daley or if Madigan ever talked about Daley points to that. Madigan loved to talk about old man Daley, who Madigan used as a model for his entire political and patronage structure. That Madigan wouldn’t have ever spoken to his highest level employee about his political idol and personal mentor is truly difficult to believe.

Mapes, in the end, just seemed like he wouldn’t cop to anything.

Now he’s looking at up to 20 years in prison for an obstruction of justice charge and another five years for perjury.

None of the federal government’s released recordings of Mapes’ conversations show that anyone he spoke with talked about actually committing a crime. The government apparently didn’t have Mapes on anything. I suppose Mapes might have been trying to protect himself about something else, but he probably would’ve received a far better deal if he’d just fessed up then.

Aside from opening statements and cross-examination, we have as of this writing yet to hear Mapes’ full defense. His lawyers have claimed in previous filings that the feds have twisted Mapes’ deliberately careful and cautious answers into lies.

That’s also difficult to believe in its entirety.

“I have no knowledge or recall of that,” Mapes said during his grand jury appearance when asked if McClain had been in contact with a House member whom McClain wanted to push out of the legislature after a very public scandal that was never actually proved to be true.

“But according to the wiretapped calls, [the legislator in question] was a frequent topic of conversation between Mapes and McClain,” Hannah Meisel reported for Capitol News Illinois last week. She then gave her readers some examples.

Mapes was widely considered to have a very detailed memory when he was Madigan’s chief of staff, but maybe he did somehow forget. Even so, he most certainly had “knowledge” of the calls because he was on them.

Other Madigan “made men” have testified for the prosecution in Mapes’ trial, so perhaps Mapes believes he did the honorable thing by not fully cooperating. But those other folks are going home to their families. Mapes may not.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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