News & Politics

The Feds Polluted DC’s Democratic Process With Gray Investigation

Photograph by Flickr user chesbayprogram.

Federal prosecutors–namely former US Attorney Ronald Machen and his assistant, Vincent Cohen–corrupted DC’s 2014 mayoral race.

There are many conclusions to draw from news that acting US Attorney Channing D. Phillips announced today that he was finally killing the investigation of former mayor Vincent Gray for alleged corruption of his 2010 campaign. You could say the feds and FBI agents did a great job ferreting out dirty cash that found its way into the campaign. You could pat Machen on his back for extracting guilty pleas from six of Gray’s campaign aides. And you could give prosecutors props for fulfilling their threat to weed out public corruption in D.C. During Machen’s tenure, his prosecutors did take down two sitting councilmembers, Kwame Brown and Harry Thomas Jr., and former councilmember Michael Brown.

Great work.

But Machen’s decision to implicate Gray in the corruption investigation, three weeks before the Democratic primary, has to go down as federal law enforcement polluting the democratic process. Gray was ahead in the polls with then-council member Muriel Bowser. Immediately after prosecutors dropped Gray’s name in court, alleging that he was party to the dirty cash that was fed into his campaign, his numbers plunged. Bowser won.

What’s more galling, Machen and his prosecutors based their flimsy implication on the testimony of Jeffrey Thompson, the architect, creator and financier of the $650,000 mountain of dirty cash that went unreported into Gray’s campaign. Thompson made a fortune from multimillion dollar contracts handling DC’s Medicaid system. The city said he was cheating on the contracts and successfully forced him to return $11 million. But Thompson used some his millions to spread cash under the table to a number of local campaigns and to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign in Texas.

Ironically, the corrupt funds he devoted to Gray wound up contributing to his defeat.

The winners in this corruption of justice and democracy are:

  • Thompson, who gets off with a six-month sentence, in part by trying to rat out Gray.
  • Robert Bennett, Gray’s defense attorney, who refused to cut a deal with prosecutors because he knew they had nothing.
  • Gray, who gets to consider running for city council.

The losers: residents of the District of Columbia, who were not given a fair chance at electing the candidate of their choice for mayor.

One pungent takeaway from todays news is that the federal investigation into corruption of DC’s 2010 mayoral campaign wound up corrupting the 2014 campaign.

Shame on the feds.