As perjury trial draws to close, ex-Madigan aide leans on memory science, wife in defense
In more than two weeks of his obstruction of justice and perjury trial, one fact about the longtime chief of staff to former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan came up time and again: Tim Mapes was detail-oriented.
Mapes not only served as Madigan’s top aide for more than 25 years, but he also worked for two decades as executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois under Madigan’s chairmanship. He also spent the last seven years of his career – until it abruptly ended in 2018 after sexual harassment allegations against him – as clerk of the Illinois House, making each day of legislative session run in the manner Madigan wanted it.
Seven witnesses who worked with Mapes in Springfield testified that he was an incredibly detail-oriented person; a former state representative who served for 31 years described his attention to detail as “meticulous.”
Federal prosecutors asked that question of their witnesses as a way to bolster their case that Mapes lied to a grand jury in 2021. The grand jury was investigating Madigan and his inner circle, including Mike McClain, an influential former lobbyist and a close friend of the former speaker.
Mapes – who was testifying under an immunity order – repeatedly told the grand jury that he either couldn’t recall or didn’t know that McClain was working on Madigan’s behalf after he retired from lobbying in late 2016.
After eight days of the prosecution making its case – including playing the two-plus hours of Mapes’ March 2021 grand jury testimony and dozens of wiretapped calls that seemed to contradict his answers – the defense on Tuesday tried to cast Mapes’ detail-oriented reputation in a new light.
Mapes’ attorneys hired an expert witness in learning and memory, who told the jury that factors like stress or busyness can negatively affect a person’s ability to encode and store memories.
Illinois State University psychology professor Dawn McBride said that a person who is detail-oriented probably has a good short-term memory, but that has no bearing on the person’s long-term memory.
“Having a good working memory may mean you are paying attention to many things at once, so more things get caught up in that bottle neck and not make it into long-term memory,” McBride said.
On cross-examination, however, Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia Schwartz asked McBride if forgetting the specifics of a conversation is “different than forgetting what your best friend was doing three years ago?”
“Yes, that’s different,” McBride acknowledged.
McBride also acknowledged it was possible for someone to “fake memory loss,” as Schwartz put it, but declined to answer questions the prosecutor posed about a psychological concept known as “malingering,” repeating that she was not a clinician and didn’t have expertise about that subject. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disease defines malingering as "intentional production of false or grossly exaggerated physical or psychological symptoms, motivated by external incentives.”
The jury has heard McClain and Mapes on many wiretapped calls from 2018 and early 2019 – both before and after Mapes’ abrupt departure from his jobs – discussing what was on their professional to-do lists.
McClain told Mapes about how he was helping Madigan, and even consulted with Mapes in late 2018, roughly five months after Mapes was forced to resign, about House committee assignments.
On one wiretapped call from May 2018, McClain told Mapes about an “assignment” he had to get the General Assembly to approve a land transfer from the state to the city of Chicago so a developer could buy the parcel and build a hotel in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood.
In another call from October 2018, McClain told Mapes that his “assignment is to tell Lou Lang he has no life in the House anymore,” referring to former state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie. Lang testified last week that after a conversation with McClain the following month, he decided to retire, as he understood McClain’s message that he “really oughta move on” to be coming from Madigan.
“Mr. McClain was the person who was dispatched to tell members things that (Madigan) didn’t wanna tell them,” Lang said.
The obstruction of justice charge alleges Mapes gave false testimony about more than a dozen topics, including whether he knew McClain communicated with Lang in 2018, with some of those communications at Madigan’s direction.
“I have no knowledge or recall of that,” Mapes told the grand jury when prosecutors asked if he knew whether McClain was in contact with Lang.
Prosecutors cited Mapes’ answers to seven questions during his grand jury testimony as the basis for the single count of perjury. That included his answer to a question about whether he knew McClain “acted in any capacity as a messenger for (Madigan)” from 2017 onward.
Mapes answered that he was “not aware of any” such circumstances.
The defense on Tuesday also called a former Democratic Party of Illinois employee to testify. Emily Wurth served as the state party’s operations manager and later the chief financial officer after Mapes’ departure. She testified that she did not believe a fundraising program Mapes and McClain had started for politically vulnerable Democratic candidates was an assignment from Madigan.
“I had always understood it to be something that Tim and Mr. McClain did in support of the speaker, but not for the speaker,” she said.
After Mapes’ ouster from Madigan’s orbit in early June 2018, Wurth said she was worried about his mental health “because mine wasn’t good.”
Another person who was very worried during that time: Mapes’ wife, Bronwyn Rains. Rains testified on Tuesday about the severe depression she watched her husband fall into after he was “ejected” from his job, as she put it.
“He was in a dark place,” Rains said. “I was working during the day, so when I would come home, he was still in the same position, more or less, in the darkened basement than where I left him in the morning. That speaks volumes, both as a wife and as a practitioner.”
Rains is both a clinical psychologist and professor in Springfield, but the judge told the jury to disregard her reference to her career, as she was not on the stand as an expert witness.
Eventually, Mapes established his own consulting firm, though he only ever got one contract, Rains testified. So she urged him “to do something that was completely out of his wheelhouse,” she said.
Mapes got a part-time job at UPS filling the gas tanks on trucks at night so they’d be ready to go for the next day, and then a job as a driver transporting workers to and from barges on Illinois waterways.
Rains also testified that the Mapes family was not as close to the McClain family as the prosecution had portrayed them to be. Later, however, the defense played a wiretapped call in which McClain told Wurth that the Mapes family visited the McClains in Quincy “at least once every summer.”
The defense also produced a chart summarizing the most frequent callers to and from McClain’s wiretapped cell phone in 2018 and 2019. Defense attorneys sought to show that the 60 calls – which included a few voicemails – between McClain and Mapes paled in comparison with the number of times McClain spoke to others on the phone.
Former state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, was the most frequently listed contact on McClain’s list with 622 calls between the two men, although the vast majority of them weren’t actually answered. Number one in completed and recorded calls with McClain was John Bradley, a former Democratic House member-turned-lobbyist. Madigan also made the top 10, though his son Andrew ranked higher in the number of calls both made and recorded by the FBI on McClain’s wiretapped phone.
The trial continues at 9 a.m. Wednesday, when the jury will get their instructions and sit through several hours of closing arguments before being sent off to deliberate.
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