Even as Gov. Bruce Rauner has worked to quell questions surrounding staffing upheaval in his office, his former general counsel — perhaps the most sensitive position under the governor — is at the center of a brewing controversy.
The attorney, Dennis Murashko, was the subject of a complaint alleging he had misused the powers of his office, sources with direct knowledge of the accusations told POLITICO.
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But Murashko also authored a memo to the governor raising the question of whether the administration was properly keeping politics out of the office, sources with knowledge of that memo say.
The governor’s office has not answered questions involving the circumstances of Murashko’s departure, including events that stood in stark contrast to the governor’s recent public statements.
In a news availability following the firing of his communications staff, Rauner told reporters Aug. 24 that he did not expect more departures from his administration.
Later that same day, the governor’s office announced that Murashko would leave by month’s end.
“One of the most talented and creative lawyers, Dennis has been my trusted senior adviser for almost three years, and I have always valued his good counsel,” Rauner said in an Aug. 24 statement. “On behalf of the residents of our great state, I wish him well in his future endeavors.”
The next day, Murashko was escorted from government offices, which in some cases is protocol for a departing employee.
The Rauner administration has not answered multiple inquiries from POLITICO since last week over Murashko’s abrupt departure.
But a POLITICO investigation, including interviews with a range of current and former state employees, reveals that Murashko, who had grown close to Rauner over the last year, had left in controversy involving allegations against — and by — the attorney.
Murashko has long been close to a conservative think tank, the Illinois Policy Institute, including former president Kristina Rasmussen, who was hired to replace Rauner’s former chief of staff Richard Goldberg after Rauner fired him in early July. Rauner’s decision to hire several individuals who worked with the IPI created a flashpoint within the administration, with longtime Rauner employees fearing it signaled a sharp move to the right. Ultimately, 21 staffers were been fired or resigned in protest to the IPI hirings.
Murashko sided with the think tank and supported bringing in some of IPI’s staffers, including Rasmussen. That drove a division between Murashko and the old guard of the Rauner team.
Murashko is now the subject of a complaint that alleges, among other things, that he abused the powers of his office. It was filed with the Office of the Executive Inspector General and was described to POLITICO by sources with direct knowledge of the complaint.
Anyone can file a complaint with OEIG, and the office, led by former federal prosecutor Maggie Hickey, would not confirm or deny that a complaint had been filed or whether an investigation was underway.
Several sources talked to POLITICO about the nature of the allegations, including that Murashko was accused of using his position to dole out plum duties to someone with whom he had a personal relationship.
Reached by POLITICO, Murashko denounced the series of allegations in strong terms, saying it “has zero truth to it.”
“I’ve never been made aware of any OEIG investigation, nor have I done anything to warrant an investigation or even a complaint about my service in state government,” Murashko said to POLITICO in a statement.
Murashko worked as deputy general counsel in the governor’s office for nearly two years before becoming general counsel last November. Before that, he worked for the Jones Day law firm in Chicago for five years.
Murashko himself wrote an ethics memo and circulated it within the office before leaving the state. It was co-signed by at least one of his deputies, sources say. In it, the attorneys stressed that the office needed to draw boundaries between the political and government sides of the Rauner operation.
The governor’s office did not respond to questions about the memo.
Rauner, already considered one of the most vulnerable incumbent governors in the country, abruptly fired many of his longtime staffers in July, saying he wanted to build “the best team in America.”
Less than six weeks later, four of the employees making up the communications team had resigned following a flap involving a political cartoon critics called racist.