Morning Spin: Duckworth wants AG watchdog to probe Sessions

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U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth speaks during a town hall meeting on April 11, 2017, in Palatine.

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Topspin

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth on Thursday joined several senators in asking the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ role in last week’s firing of FBI chief James Comey.

The Democrats want to know whether Sessions violated his recusal from any investigation into the 2016 presidential election, including possible Russian ties to the President Donald Trump’s campaign.

Sessions, while a U.S. senator from Alabama and Trump campaign surrogate, twice spoke to Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. during the election but didn’t note the contacts during his confirmation hearings.

In March, he pledged to recuse himself from “any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States,” the lawmakers said.

At the time of his firing, Comey “was actively leading the FBI’s investigations into both the attempts by the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential campaign, and the ties of members/employees/representatives of the Trump Campaign had, or have, with the Russian government or Russian intelligence services,” the lawmakers wrote.

The senators’ letter is the latest in an ongoing series of moves, by Democratic lawmakers especially, to try to keep the heat on Trump’s administration. On Thursday, senators of both parties met privately with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who named Robert Mueller to lead the Russia probe. The president characterized that appointment as being part of a "witch hunt."

Illinois’ senior Sen. Dick Durbin after the meeting said it was an “outrage” and a “disgrace” for Trump to characterize the special counsel’s probe as a “witch hunt” in light of Mueller’s record of service as a Marine in Vietnam, a federal judge and former longtime director of the FBI.

The letter Duckworth signed went to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz. Among the other Democrats who signed the letter were Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. (Katherine Skiba)

What’s on tap

*Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s schedule wasn’t available.

*Gov. Bruce Rauner has no public events scheduled.

*Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia will introduce a campaign finance matching program at a news conference at the Cook County Building.

From the notebook

*A tax reversal? A group including restauranteurs, retailers and a beverage industry worker union on Thursday launched a campaign, dubbed “Can the Tax” to try to reverse a penny-an-ounce Cook County tax on sweetened drinks set to go into effect July 1.

The group, funded by the American Beverage Association, is lobbying county commissioners. They’re figuring all they have to do is get one vote to get their way. The tax was approved last November, when County Board President Toni Preckwinkle cast a tie-breaking vote to approve it after the board split 8-8.

Commissioner Robert Steele, D-Chicago, was in the hospital and unable to attend that meeting, so he’s become a focus of the campaign that is also expected to include social media and radio spots. An attempt to reach Steele for comment was not successful.

“The beverage tax is coming, and we want to make sure (Cook County residents) know it will have a dramatic impact on their pocketbooks,” said Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association. “We want to make sure we’re educating the residents and the small businesses in Cook County how much of a negative impact this will have, and we want them reaching out to their county commissioners and telling them (it’s) not a good tax. It’s a regressive tax.”

The group also includes the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and Teamsters Local 727. It contends that the tax will harm restaurants that operate on slim profit margins and will result in job losses for workers in the retail, restaurant and beverage industries.

Frank Shuftan, a spokesman for Preckwinkle, said the tax will help the county avoid large cuts to public health and safety programs.

The tax “was designed to provide needed revenue and serve a public health purpose,” Shuftan said. “Big Soda continues to recycle allegations and scare tactics they used during the run-up to the vote. The fact is that in communities such as Berkeley, Calif., and Philadelphia, which have already initiated such taxes, Big Soda’s assertions have proven baseless.” (Hal Dardick)

*Like buttah: The Illinois House puts out a daily calendar, and there’s a daily historical fact. Thursday’s harkened back to May 8, 1951. That’s the day the House voted 121-16 to allow the sale of yellow margarine (previously, it had to be sold colorless, which, ew). Just a guess, but you have to imagine the butter lobby opposed such a change and the issue became quite the fetcher bill.

*Less filling, tastes great: Thursday was Beer Day for Mayor Emanuel. The mayor, who has been a craft beer aficionado for a while now, announced Friday Night Flights, a series of mini-beer festivals this summer. He followed that up by hitting Beer Under Glass, the kickoff event to Chicago Craft Beer Week. Here you can see him drinking beer. (It’s not quite the "Blurred Lines" dancing video from Taste of Chicago a few years back, alas.)

*On the Sunday Spin: Tribune political reporter Rick Pearson’s guests include U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; and Chris Stone, lobbyist and entrepreneur, on casino expansion and potential federal changes toward the states on medical marijuana. The "Sunday Spin" airs from 7 to 9 a.m. on WGN-AM 720.

What we’re writing

*Business group wants Illinois income tax hike, spending cuts to fix state finances.

*Emanuel’s vision for North Branch redevelopment clears hurdle.

*Lawmakers question delay in replacing controversial lottery manager.

*Intersect Illinois, Gov. Rauner’s economic development nonprofit, gets new CEO from upstate New York.

*Lincoln Towing’s license on the line in ICC hearing.

*Navy Pier security guards strike over new contractor.

What we’re reading

*Blind baseball announcer aspires to bring sports to fans with disabilities.

*Interracial marriage more common, but acceptance still not universal.

*Portillo’s bringing back lemon cake, thanks to man who offered $300 for it.

Follow the money

*Track Illinois campaign contributions in real time here and here.

Beyond Chicago

*Trump denies asking Comey to back off investigation.

*The deputy AG who wrote a memo about Comey knew he would be fired beforehand.

*After losing presidential race. France’s Le Pen will run for a seat in parliament.