News & Politics

Vince Gray Still Has the Upper Hand on the Feds

Prosecutors are getting ready to indict the DC mayor, but they'll have a hard time proving it in court.

Photograph via Flickr user chesbayprogram.

In the game of chicken between US Attorney Ronald Machen and his prey, DC Mayor Vince Gray, the prey seems to have the upper hand.

According to Mike DeBonis’s story in today’s Washington Post, Machen, pursuing Gray for alleged campaign-finance irregularities, offered the mayor a deal: plead to one felony count and avoid further prosecution.

Gray’s response: No dice.

It’s worth noting that the offer was relayed through Gray’s attorney, Bob Bennett, the mayor was not in the room. Bennett has steadfastly refused to allow Gray to speak to federal officials, a smart move in a case in which, as with so many corruption investigations, several people have gone down for lying to the feds.

Instead, Bennett and Gray are forcing Machen to prove his case on its own merits, in court. That puts Machen in the position of weighing whether he has enough to convince a jury. Does he?

“They apparently have not come up with the proverbial smoking gun,” says one defense attorney who has represented public officials in federal cases.

If neither the FBI agents on the case, nor Machen’s prosecutors have not found an e-mail, a document, a recorded conversation, or other hard evidence that would convince a jury that Gray knew of the off-the-books campaign fund, testimony from witnesses that Gray knew of the dirty money amounts to hearsay.

Jeff Thompson, the alleged mastermind of the shadow campaign, fingered Gray for personally asking for his dirty cash in March when he pleaded guilty to illegally funneling more than $2 million to Gray’s 2010 bid and other political campaigns. That was good enough to get Thompson off with a relatively light sentence. But how would it sound to jurors if Thompson gets grilled on the witness stand by Vince Gray’s defense attorneys?

The pressure is mounting on Machen to show that his public corruption crusade has been successful. He’s scored guilty pleas from three DC council members and five of Gray’s campaign aides. But the probe is getting moldy as it completes its fourth year. Though he can extend his tenure, if Gray chooses to go to trial, the prosecutor might be passing the case on to his successor.

At this point that all adds up to advantage Gray.

Sources close to the case said Gray was also asked if he would consider pleading to a misdemeanor. His response: no dice.