SPRINGFIELD, (Illinois News Network) — Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office said its review of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s handling of deaths at a state-run veterans home is unique.
A little more than month out from the election, Madigan’s office said last week it’s investigating whether any laws were violated in Rauner’s handling of the Quincy veterans home legionnaires disease deaths, and whether family, staff and the public were notified in a timely manner.
Asked how many criminal investigations of the executive branch the AG has done in her nearly 16 years, Madigan’s office said it turned over information on now imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to the U.S. Attorney’s office in 2008.
“That’s obviously the notable example, but we have many other cases that deal with the executive branch/agencies,” Madigan spokesperson Maura Possley said in an email. “We handle ethics cases from [the Office of the Executive Inspector General], of which many/most deal with the executive branch/agencies, and we also have whistleblower cases which similarly do involve the exec. branch/agencies, though not all.
“Those are not criminal, of course, which is unique in this Quincy case,” Possley said.
Confirmation of the investigation into Rauner came after WBEZ radio reported about an email in which a former Rauner press secretary, Lindsay Walters, told press aides she didn’t think they needed to issue a statement to the media and to “hold and see if we receive any reporter inquiries.”
Rauner denied his staff did anything wrong in delaying notification to the public and residents’ families during the ABC 7 debate in Chicago.
“The team determined the right time,” Rauner said. “We needed to get all the facts. Make sure that there was no panic or inappropriate misinformation put out.”
He also said his administration did everything it could, including bringing in national experts, to address the outbreak of the legionella bacteria in the facility’s water systems.
The state has struggled to contain legionella in the old piping at the aged home that led to the respiratory illness related deaths of 14 people since 2015.
Alongside Quincy city officials, Rauner’s administration earlier this year announced plans to develop a new water source and build a new veterans home, including a temporary facility with updated water systems for residents to move to while the new facility is built.
That hasn’t stopped Rauner opponents from pouncing on the incumbent governor over Madigan’s election-month investigation. Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker called the delayed notification a coverup.
“He failed,” Pritzker said. “For three years he failed to protect them. Fourteen people died.”
Illinois Republican Party Executive Director Travis Sterling said Madigan is politicizing the deaths that have happened over the span of nearly four years.
“Madigan has launched a clearly partisan investigation into a serious public health crisis that Gov. Rauner took swift action on and has been transparent with the General Assembly and the media,” Sterling said. “This is nothing more than the politicization of the devastating deaths of Illinois veterans to distract from JB Pritzker’s scheme to defraud Illinois taxpayers hours before a debate.”
A long time political analyst said he doesn’t expect Madigan’s investigation to conclude before election day in less than a month.
“In the course of the next four weeks it’s going to be very difficult to get to the bottom of,” University of Illinois Institute for Government and Public Affairs Director Christopher Mooney said. “So really it’s just more mud being thrown up in the air.”
The final debate between Rauner and Pritzker is Thursday in Quincy on WGEM-TV.