Rauner on Murashko: 'A gentleman resigned'

Video shows state employee on Rauner campaign turf

CLINTON, Ill. (WCIA) -- Governor Rauner swatted down questions on Tuesday about the abrupt and unceremonious exit of his longtime legal adviser Dennis Murashko.

Murashko was led out of the James R. Thompson Center just days after he penned a now-leaked memo which contained warnings against mixing politics and official state business.

"You are referring to a leaked memo," Rauner told reporters. "The only thing I will say is that memo was created at my urging."  

Rauner has been reluctant to divulge details about Murashko's August exit, even as a multitude of current and former administration employees swap stories about what led to his demise.

At least one complaint was filed against Murashko with the Office of the Executive Inspector General, according to sources in the Governor's office who saw the complaint. However, there is no available evidence to suggest that complaint ever triggered an official investigation. OEIG General Counsel Daniel Hurtado says thousands of complaints are filed with that office every year, but very few of them ever become full blown investigations. As a rule, the OEIG does not disclose any information about ongoing investigations or unresolved complaints. 

WCIA has separately learned Deputy Governor Trey Childress was the subject of an investigation filed within the last six months, according to state employees who were called in for interviews with the OEIG. The findings and status of that investigation remain unknown, although at least one witness testified in his defense. 

Two sources tell WCIA they shared concerns about Murashko's behavior in office with senior members of the administration before his departure, but on Tuesday, Rauner denied having any knowledge of personal ethical breaches involving Murashko.

"Not that I know of," he said, "And you're asking all kinds of questions based on rumor. Let me be clear. There is a lot of baloney rumors going around. You [reporters] are helping perpetuate them, and that's wrong. You guys should not do that," he scolded. 

"You guys are trying to spin up something that does not exist. A gentleman resigned. That happens in government from time to time. There is no there there." 

While Rauner would prefer to dismiss the questions as scurrilous hearsay, politicians running to take his job are determined to exploit the governor's resistance to answer questions by demanding a drawn out examination of the governor's role in Murashko's dismissal. 

An email from J.B. Pritzker's campaign says the memo "gives insight into possible troubling coordination between the Rauner administration and his political operation."

Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh says, "Rauner fired a senior advisor, spent months trying to hide the Murashko memo, and he refuses to answer any questions on the subject." 

Several reporters filed orders under the Freedom of Information Request seeking a copy of Murashko's memo, but Rauner's lawyers refused to comply with them claiming attorney-client privilege. Rich Miller of Capitol Fax obtained an unredacted copy, which WCIA has since confirmed is authentic. 

Among other things, the memo warns against sharing official government documents with campaign staff and prohibits state employees, including Governor's Office employees, from engaging in "Prohibited political activity" while on state time and property. 

The memo says Rauner's government employees cannot "be compelled" or "directed to volunteer" to even speak with members of the political team. Employees are allowed to volunteer for the campaign, but are instructed to do so during lunch hours or on vacation time. The memo makes clear state workers may not participate in conversations with campaign staff while on state time. 

Video footage captured by the pro-union group Illinois Working Together shows Rauner leaving his campaign headquarters at 35 E. Wacker Drive in Chicago on Friday morning, November 17th, with a state employee at his side. In the video, a tracker approaches Rauner and asks why he hasn't taken a stance on the Republican tax plan, which at the time had just passed the House of Representatives.

The tracker then asks Rauner, "Why are you at your campaign office at 9:15 in the morning on a Friday?" 

Rauner, flanked by his recently hired personal assistant Peter Cimino and an Illinois State Trooper, briefly pauses to notice the camera before climbing into his government vehicle and driving away. The Governor's public schedule shows he was on the way to a 10:00am event at the Aon Center located just blocks away. 

Joint fundraising documents filed with the Federal Election Commission list 35 E. Wacker as the registered address for 'Our Home Our Fight,' a group affiliated with Citizens for Rauner and the Illinois Republican Party. Campaign officials confirmed it was their headquarters, but chose not to respond to the tracker video.

Rauner's Republican primary challenger Jeanne Ives previously called on the Inspector General to investigate Rauner's involvement in Murashko's departure. On Tuesday, campaign spokeswoman Kathleen Murphy reacted to the footage with an hardline warning.

"The use of state resources for political campaigns was one of the offenses that sent two previous governors to prison," Murphy said in an email to WCIA, referring to Democrat Rod Blagojevich and Republican George Ryan. "Serious questions continue to be raised about Governor Rauner's ethical conduct that he refuses to answer. It is yet another betrayal of the GOP by 'Benedict Rauner' who campaigned as a reformer only to become another ruling class politician in Springfield." 

After reviewing the footage in question, Rauner's official spokeswoman Patty Schuh told WCIA, "Our office adheres to the highest ethical standards." 

Political science expert Dr. Kent Redfield, Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois-Springfield, said the brief video clip does not necessarily implicate the governor or his staffers of any impropriety, in particular because the personal assistant or "body man" is the one state worker whose job it is to accompany the governor and could occasionally be called on to pass an urgent memo or notify the governor in the event of an emergency.

"You are protecting the governor, you are providing assistance to the governor," Redfield explained, "but you should break things out." He echoed many of the instructions found in the memo, and said elected officials should "compartmentalize" and make clear distinctions between campaign activity and official government business. 

"We have got this history of people crossing the line," he said, "essentially using their office as a resource to be used in the campaign." 

While footage shows Cimino leaving the building during typical work hours, there is no evidence he ever entered the campaign office itself. Cimino did not respond to multiple requests for comment. It's unclear if he has ever volunteered for the Rauner campaign. 

Asked how the video might collide with the Murashko memo, Redfield remained unconvinced there had been any serious infraction caught on camera. 

"You would not leave the governor unprotected," he said. "The governor needs to be able to communicate with his office and so you want to be in touch. There are some public functions that are involved with those people being at his side. But again, you don't want to abuse that." 

Redfield says he read the Murashko memo, and described it as "prudent advice rather than being an overly rigid interpretation of the law." 

"Given my experience in Illinois politics, I would not use the phrase 'too rigid,'" he said. "I think that because the public's perception of politicians is so low, I think if you're going to restore public trust, then you really need to bend over backwards. You need to not only avoid corruption, you need to avoid the appearance of corruption." 

Read the Murashko Memo:

*This article has been updated to clarify that sources who witnessed Murashko's exit from the Thompson Center initially described it as a security guard escort, but pressed for specifics, later recanted and acknowledged they could have been administration officials. 

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