Today’s guilty pleas from a top campaign finance aide to Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) confirmed a few big things that help show the direction the ongoing investigation is headed in.
1. Sulaimon Brown was at least partly right.
Thomas W. Gore’s admissions in federal court today mark the first public confirmation from a Gray campaign insider that the also-ran mayoral candidate was paid under the table in order to “continue his verbal attacks” on former mayor Adrian M. Fenty. The conduct alleged in court papers does not show that Brown was promised a job in exchange for his attacks, as Brown claims, but it shows that he was in contact with senior campaign officials who would be in a position to facilitate such a deal.
2. There was funny money sloshing around the Gray campaign.
Gore admitted that he personally purchased the money orders with “excessive or unattributed cash contributions” to the Gray for Mayor effort. That confirms reports by the Post’s Nikita Stewart that the campaign had a practice of accepting cash donations in excess of the $25 legal limit and converting them to money orders.
3. Federal authorities have taken the matter seriously.
Four days after Brown’s allegations first appeared in The Washington Post, the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI started a grand jury investigation. “Throughout the rest of 2011, agents from the FBI interviewed witnesses and collected documents relating to [Brown]’s allegations,” a court filing indicates. Note that Gore’s most serious misstep wasn’t buying money orders with illegal campaign cash — a local misdemeanor — but destroying evidence and lying to investigators, opening him up to a federal felony charge.
4. Another key campaign figure is cooperating with authorities.
Gore would not have been caught in his lies without the help of Howard L. Brooks, a campaign consultant fingered by Brown as one of two campaign officials involved in the payoff scheme. (The other, Lorraine A. Green, has not been implicated in charges filed thus far.) It’s Brooks, referred to as “Person A” in charging documents, who appears to have gathered enough evidence of Gore’s doings to force a plea. Gore referred briefly in court today to statements of his having been “taken from a wire,” according to the Associated Press. The question becomes, what else does Brooks know and with whom else might he have worn a recording device?
5. Gore will also be cooperating.
The plea deal Gore signed includes not only an agreement to cooperate, but also a big incentive to cooperate extensively: If an internal panel at the U.S. attorney’s office determines that Gore has provided “substantial assistance” to prosecutors, they will file a motion with U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly justifying a sentence below what the federal guidelines otherwise demand — in this case, 12 to 18 months. No sentencing date has been set, indicating that prosecutors are expecting “substantial assistance” from Gore over the course of weeks or months.
There’s one big unconfirmed matter: whether Gray ordered, approved or was aware of any illegal activity. While Brown has alleged that Gray had personal knowledge of the scheme, Gray has denied knowing of any illicit doings. There is nothing laid out in the Gore case to contradict that. There is also nothing laid out in the Gore case that could be linked to the allegations of a “shadow campaign” linked to campaign financier Jeffrey E. Thompson, which are potentially much more serious than $660 worth of payouts to Brown.
But with Brooks and Gore now known to be cooperating with prosecutors, Gray has reason to be nervous. Just read the cooperation language from Gore’s plea agreement:
15. Your client agrees to cooperate completely, candidly, and truthfully in any criminal investigation or prosecution conducted by this Office or by other prosecutors. Specifically, your client agrees:
A. To provide complete, truthful, and candid disclosure of information and all records, writings, tangible objects, or other requested materials of any kind or description that your client has, including financial records and tax returns;
B. To answer completely, truthfully, and candidly all questions put to your client by attorneys and law-enforcement officials;
C. To be available for interviews by attorneys and law-enforcement officers of the government upon request and reasonable notice;
D. Not to attempt to protect any person or entity through false information or omission, nor falsely to implicate any person or entity;
E. To comply with any and all reasonable requests from federal government authorities with respect to the specific assistance that your client shall provide; and
F. To answer, at trial, before the grand jury, or at any hearing arising out of an investigation, all questions put to your client by the Court or by the attorney for any party completely, truthfully, and candidly.