I have two George Ryan-related stories for you this week.
First, the irony of former Gov. Jim Thompson's decision to defend former Gov. George Ryan seems pretty obvious up front, but there's more than first meets the eye.
Thompson was the US Attorney who put former Gov. Otto Kerner behind bars for corruption, and was catapulted to the governor's mansion on his reputation as a reformer.
And now the Chicago law firm Thompson heads is defending Ryan in federal court and is doing it without charge, at a cost to the firm so far of $10 million with many weeks still ahead, according to a recent article in Crain's Chicago Business.
The irony doesn't stop there, however.
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's supporters have to be cheering on Thompson and his firm's crack criminal defense attorney Dan Webb as they defend Ryan. If Ryan somehow manages to beat this rap, or winds up with just a slap on the wrist, then US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald - the most vigorous and relentless federal prosecutor this state has seen since Thompson himself - may think twice about targeting Daley and focus instead on underlings.
Governor Rod Blagojevich's partisans are most likely cheering on Webb and Thompson for the same reasons. Word is that prosecutors and FBI agents have been asking questions about the governor's behavior during the course of this investigation. If Ryan walks, then Blagojevich may sleep a little easier at night.
So Thompson, the former crusading Republican prosecutor, has now become the potential savior of the Chicago machine's most effective manager in decades, Rich Daley. And the current Democratic governor's best hope for staying out of trouble is if Ryan - whom Blagojevich has bashed for years - walks, courtesy of Jim Thompson, another Republican predecessor. Did I mention that Thompson's firm also represents the Blagojevich campaign fund?
Only in Illinois.
And here's the second story.
There were two reasons why then Secretary of State George Ryan and his chief of staff Scott Fawell supported Phil Gramm's presidential candidacy in 1996.
They wanted a chance to take their statewide organization out for a spin in preparation for the 1998 governor's race. They didn't back frontrunner Bob Dole because everyone, including then-Gov. Jim Edgar, was with the Kansas Republican and Ryan/Fawell wanted to be in charge of their own show.
Much more importantly, though, Phil Gramm had money. Lots and lots of money.
"I have the most reliable friend you can have in American politics, and that is ready money," Gramm boasted when he announced his presidential campaign. He wasn't just joking, either. Gramm was loaded down with cash from just about every special interest on the planet.
So, Ryan/Fawell could take their campaign machine out for a test drive and make Gramm pay for it, and possibly even hook themselves up with Gramm's sweet donor list in the process. It didn't matter if Gramm won or not. It was all about them.
And, in typical fashion, Ryan/Fawell also used the opportunity to grab a handful of Gramm's "ready money" for themselves. Fawell allegedly presented a budget to a Gramm consultant in mid-1995 that included $100,000 for "consulting fees," explaining to the surprised Gramm campaign person that this is the way things are done in Illinois. Gramm's campaign ended up approving about half that amount, and the money was ultimately funneled through a company with ties to the Ryan campaign.
The feds have said that Fawell, Ryan's daughter and another aide got a share of the pie, but Ryan said last week that he was paid $11,000. Ryan wasn't testifying when he made that admission, however. He was holding a press conference.
During last week's court proceedings, Gramm said this about the consulting fees: "It's the difference between love and prostitution... you're looking for evidence of support not looking to buy support... you don't pay people to be your friends."
Ryan took that as an accusation that he was a prostitute. So, a clearly angry Ryan let loose to reporters later. "Mr. Gramm referred to me as a prostitute, and I really feel I absolutely have to respond to that," he said, claiming he "worked very hard" for Gramm and "earned every penny" of his fees.
"I am not a prostitute." Now there's a great defense.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at capitolfax.blogspot.com.