For the last few weeks, there’s been heated debate about Mayor Rahm and his handling of the Laquan McDonald video.
The question is: Did the mayor cover up evidence of a murder when he sat on the video showing police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting McDonald in 2014—only releasing the video after a Cook County judge ordered him to do so?
One side says yes, that’s an obvious cover-up. The other side says stop picking on Mayor Rahm!
Representing the Rahm side is a bunch of very powerful people, including President Joe Biden, Senators Richard Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and former Chicago inspector general Joe Ferguson.
A formidable team if ever there was one.
The other side includes my old friend and political strategist Delmarie Cobb, her ally Norman Solomon, a whole bunch of leftists, Matt Topic (more on him later), and ugh, well, me.
Or as the Sun-Times summed us up in a subhead—“no significant opposition.” Which is, let’s face it, how the Rahms of the world view the left in this country.
The most relevant person on that list—at least for this column—is Topic. He’s a local lawyer who’s made a reputation as the go-to guy in legal battles with the city over FOIA requests.
FOIA stands for Freedom of Information Act. It’s the law that requires municipalities like Chicago to fork over information those municipalities probably should have made public in the first place.
Topic was the lawyer who forced Mayor Rahm—fighting all the way—to turn over the video that showed Van Dyke gunning down McDonald.
That video demonstrated that the city’s more-or-less official position on that murder—that McDonald was the aggressor and Van Dyke acted in self-defense—was a lie. And had been since the day McDonald was killed.
Topic filed his FOIA lawsuit on behalf of a freelance writer named Brandon Smith. Mayor Rahm had turned down Smith’s request to publicize the video on the grounds that the shooting was the subject of an ongoing investigation. As such, he could not turn over a videotape that might jeopardize that investigation.
Judge Franklin Valderrama ruled against Mayor Rahm—and for Smith—after pointing out that the city had not produced any evidence that releasing the video would compromise any investigation.
The matter of Mayor Rahm and the video resurfaced earlier this fall when President Biden nominated Emanuel to be ambassador to Japan.
Cobb, Solomon, and their allies argued that it was a disgrace to reward Emanuel with an important position like an ambassadorship given that he covered up evidence of a murder.
On the other side, Ferguson sent a letter to the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which held a hearing on Rahm’s appointment, saying that questions about a Mayor Rahm cover-up “are not fair, because they are not grounded in fact, because the facts simply do not exist.”
Ferguson also wrote: “My office’s comprehensive investigation did not reveal any evidence that would support the lingering surmises and accusations of a ‘cover-up’ orchestrated out of City Hall. None.”
And . . .
“Decisions made about the non-or-delayed disclosure of the body-worn camera videos at the time were in fact the longstanding policy and practice of the city of Chicago and its Law Department.”
Topic and I were discussing the case on my podcast. I was going on and on, as I tend to do, calling the case an obvious cover-up. And Topic said something to the effect of . . .
If you feel so strongly about it, file a FOIA request. You know—shut up and do something.
I must confess, I have a skeptical view of FOIA requests. As I said, the law is supposed to be a tool for the public. But all too often it’s used as a tool against the public.
My favorite example is what I called blankpieceofpapergate.
That’s the one where Joanna Brown, a school activist in Logan Square, filed a FOIA request asking Chicago Public Schools to turn over any information they had about a meeting on changing the attendance boundaries of Mozart Elementary School.
Eight months after Brown sent her request, CPS finally responded by sending her a blank sign-in sheet for a public meeting. In other words, it took them eight months to send her a blank piece of paper.
In legal terms, that’s known as go fuktum yourselftum. Which is Latin for go . . . oh, you can figure it out.
Anyway, Topic told me not to be so jaded. And to believe in the process. So what the hell, I had him send in the request. Here’s what I’m hoping to find:
Ferguson says his “comprehensive investigation did not reveal any evidence” of a cover-up? Fair enough. Let’s see what evidence the inspector general and his staff did uncover. Let’s see how comprehensive that investigation really was.
My reporter friends tell me not to expect anything along the lines of an e-mail from Mayor Rahm to his lawyers saying, “Burn that tape!”
Presumably, Mayor Rahm’s way too smart to put that in writing, even if he felt it.
On the other hand, maybe Ferguson and his investigators uncovered an e-mail from Rahm to his lawyers saying, “Why is this investigation taking so long? I demand an immediate update! I really want to release the video to Brandon Smith ’cause it’s the right thing to do. And I always try to do the right thing, even if it hurts me politically.”
Well, it’s always a possibility.
My guess is that after many delays and excuses, the city will send me heavily redacted material, if they send me anything at all. Perhaps they’ll fork over a copy of the blank piece of paper they sent to Joanna Brown.
Or maybe they’ll deny my request. At which point Topic will take them to court. Like he’s had to do so many times before.