- Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times; Zach Gibson/Getty Images
- Illinois congressman Mike Quigley, left, questioned FBI director James Comey, right, during House Intelligence Committee hearings March 21.
As an obsessed follower of the investigation into President Trump's alleged ties to Russia, I was glued to my computer watching last Tuesday's House Intelligence Committee hearings when I was hit with an unexpected jolt of hometown boosterism.
There on the screen—with all the other congressional bigwigs—was Mike Quigley, my very own congressman. Quick, call the Chicago booster club!
Quigley was the one asking FBI director James Comey about the all-important C-word—in this case, collusion. I'll get back to that in a minute.
Before I got too carried away, I reminded myself that the last time a Chicago-area congressman played a prominent role in a congressional investigation of presidential malfeasance it didn't work out too well—at least, not for the congressman.
That was back in 1998, when U.S. rep Henry Hyde, a DuPage County Republican, led the charge to impeach President Clinton for, among other things, not telling the truth when he said "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."
Oh, the world seemed so simple then, didn't it? Our president was accused of lying about adultery as opposed to lying about—everyfuckingthing.
In the midst of his investigation, word broke that Hyde had had an affair years before with a married mother of four. Hyde brushed it off as "youthful indiscretion."
Thus, one of my first questions when I called Quigley last week was whether he'd had any indiscretions with President Putin, youthful or otherwise.
"No," he said. "I've never met Putin."
Phew. Glad we got that out of the way.
Just to remind you, Congress and the FBI are both looking into what Trump and/or his aides knew and when they knew it—just as was asked of the Nixon administration during the congressional investigation into the break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate. Only now the question pertains to the computer hacking of the DNC by the Russians.
Well, at least every U.S. national security entity—from the FBI to the CIA—says it was Russian hackers put up by President Putin who favored Trump over Hillary Clinton.
Of course, to this day I know many Bernie bros who insist that Putin had nothing to do with the hacking. Instead, they contend the e-mails were leaked by a heroic anonymous DNC whistle-blower.
You know, I understand the Bernie bros were disappointed by the elections. But fellas, you're starting to remind me of my friends in the 90s who hated the Los Angeles Police Department so much that they insisted O.J. didn't commit the Brentwood murders.
—U.S. rep Mike Quigley
Anyway, in July, thousands of private Democratic Party e-mails were published by WikiLeaks just as the party was gathering in Philadelphia for its nominating convention.
So instead of uniting as one to battle the Donald, the Bernie and Hillary factions were at each other's throats—much to the delight of Trump, who couldn't stop tweeting about it.
Now we get to the issue of Trump's involvement. At the moment, much of the evidence linking Trump to the hacking is circumstantial. The president benefited from it, and he cheered it on, and some of his aides have had meetings or business ties with Russians close to Putin. But does it go deeper? Was the president, or any of his aides, in on the hacking?
Trump says no. But of course, this president's not known for his truthfulness.
In January, the House Intelligence Committee decided to hold hearings into the affair. (The Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting its own investigation.)
And so, last Monday, Quigley asked Comey the collusion question. In other words, did the Trump campaign collude with the Russians to hack the DNC's computers?
"'Collusion' is not a term, a legal term of art," Comey responded. "And it's one I haven't used here today, as we're investigating to see whether there was any coordination between people associated with the campaign [and the Russians]."
Quigley says that going into the hearing he didn't expect Comey would offer specifics about the investigation. But he feels Comey's response was significant. At the very least, even in all its vagueness, Comey's response couldn't have pleased Trump, as it makes it clear that the collusion or "coordination" issue isn't going away anytime soon.
"I realize [Comey] can't divulge the specifics of their investigations, so I have to be a little more theoretical in my questions," Quigley told me when we spoke last week. "I can't ask, 'How did the Russians operate with these guys?' I have to ask, 'How do the Russians operate in, say, eastern Europe?' Or 'What is the Kremlin playbook?'"
Quigley's one of nine Democrats—and the only congressman from Illinois—on the 22-member Intelligence Committee. He was appointed by Democratic congressional leader Nancy Pelosi, who, he jokes, was looking for "policy wonks."
In Quigley's case, they certainly they got the wonk thing right. He's been a geeky, detail-oriented guy since I met him back in the 80s, when he was a twentysomething north-sider joining the local fight against lights in Wrigley Field—a long-shot cause if ever there was one.
Over the years, I've watched Quigley evolve toward political independence. I remember his first race, in 1991, when, backed by Mayor Daley, he challenged 46th Ward alderman Helen Shiller. She spanked him good. But a few years later Quigley successfully ran for the Cook County Board, where he broke from the mayor's clutches, irritating Daley by championing TIF reform. (Yes, only I can work TIFs into a column about Russian hacking.) He was elected to Congress in 2009.
Ironically, lately I've heard north-side progressives complain that Quigley's been too tepid on Trump—at least in comparison to Jan Schakowsky and Luis Gutierrez, who represent neighboring congressional districts. These hearings now give Quigley a chance to demonstrate that he's not afraid to go after Trump on the Russians as though it were Daley and the TIFs.
"This investigation is the most important thing I've ever done in public life," he says. "But there are some overlaps to my work in Chicago—there's a degree of intimidation from the administration." Just as there was with Daley.
In this case, Quigley's dealing with a committee chair, California Republican Devin Nunes, who seems to be working with the Trump administration to promote a different kind of investigation: not about who hacked the DNC computers, but who's been leaking embarrassing revelations to the press.
When word broke last week that Nunes had met with Trump to talk about details of the investigation before he'd discussed them with the committee, Quigley issued a statement blasting the chairman.
"Nunes has to decide where his priorities lie," Quigley said. "He can lead a credible, bipartisan investigation . . . or he can serve as a proxy for the president to create distractions, sow confusion, and advance false narratives."
Sounds like something I would write. As Quigley knows from experience, resistance doesn't always work in Chicago. Maybe he'll have better luck in D.C. v