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Editorial | Toxic politics undermines rule of law | Editorials

A two-year criminal investigation motivated by base politics results in a big, fat nothing.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul announced last week that there will be no criminal charges filed in connection with the criminal investigation into the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at a downstate veterans home.

That surely surprised many of those who followed the widely-publicized two-year probe.

But Raoul’s decision was sound, based on prosecutors’ assessment that they lacked evidence necessary to file criminal charges. The attorney general also issued a warning about expectations the public would do well to remember.

“You have to follow the evidence and match it up to the law, and it’s a very dangerous thing to have the presumption at the initiation of an investigation that there has to be a (criminal) charge,” Raoul said.

His words stand in stark contrast to what transpired in October 2018, when then-Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office disclosed its criminal investigation into the Rauner administration. That, by design, raised the specter of a handcuffed former Gov. Bruce Rauner eventually being paraded before news cameras.

For those who don’t recall, there was an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at a Quincy veterans home in 2015. The problem bedeviled state officials who tried to track down and eliminate the source of what was a serious health threat to the home’s residents and their family members as well as employees.

Ultimately, more than 10 people died, and another 80 got sick. The state spent substantial sums of money to remediate the problem without success before finally razing the facility and building a new one.

The issue became a political football — Democrats jumped all over the governor and Illinois Department of Public Health employees for their collective failure to eradicate the threat.

That was all well and good, certainly within the bounds of legitimate criticism.

But the month before the November 2018 gubernatorial election between Rauner and then-candidate J.B. Pritzker, Madigan’s office revealed its criminal investigation of Rauner et al. That’s hardly a flattering image right before an election.

Pritzker wasted no time taking political advantage of Madigan’s effort to take political advantage of the situation.

“Veterans, their spouses and staff continued to get sick and died on this failed governor’s watch. Their families deserve justice, and Bruce Rauner must be held accountable,” Pritzker told reporters.

Pritzker separated himself from Madigan’s revelation by neglecting to say that Rauner must be held “criminally” accountable. But that was his clear message.

So how ironic it is that in December, Pritzker found himself on the defensive after a coronavirus outbreak at a LaSalle veterans home caused 33 deaths. He disclaimed any responsibility…

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