Why Hillary Clinton probably won’t help Vincent Gray

October 15, 2013

Hillary Clinton may have gotten illegal campaign help from Jeffrey Thompson in 2008, but it’s difficult to compare those allegations to the Gray shadow campaign. (Ramin Talaie/Getty Images)

In the course of reporting today’s front-pager on Vincent C. Gray’s peculiar situation, of an accomplished and vigorous mayor paralyzed by an ongoing federal investigation into his last campaign, a particular refrain emerged among those loyal to Gray.

It is a suggestion — an argument, even — that seeks to paint Gray as the innocent victim of a serial political corrupter, rather than a knowing accomplice or even the mastermind.

It hinges on the most recent allegations in the federal investigation centered on businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson, disclosed in court papers filed last month: that Thompson secretly spent $608,000 on “street teams” to help then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton — two years before he assisted Gray’s mayoral campaign.

If Thompson spent all of this money unbeknownst to Clinton, the thinking goes, then why couldn’t he have spent money just as secretly on behalf of Gray? “It happened to Hillary, too,” is a prevailing school of thought among Gray loyalists as the clock ticks on the mayor’s reelection decision.

Forest Hills filmmaker Aviva Kempner was among those who have been encouraged by the Clinton revelations. “Hillary didn’t know what Thompson did, and I still believe Vince didn’t know,” she said.

However, there are some key differences between Thompson’s alleged role in the Clinton and Gray campaigns.

While Thompson is said to have spent similar amounts of money on both, the $653,000 allegedly involved in the Gray shadow campaign is proportionally far greater to the $2.9 million that Gray’s campaign spent than the nearly $230 million raised on Clinton’s behalf.

Also: Thompson’s shadow spending for Clinton is said to have taken place mainly in Texas, more than 1,000 miles from the campaign’s Arlington headquarters. But an operative in the Gray shadow campaign had an office on the same floor of the same building on Sixth Street NW as the legitimate Gray campaign’s field director, according to court documents filed in the prosecution of campaign figure Vernon E. Hawkins.

On Gray’s side of the ledger, there’s the fact that the political aides that appeared to serve as liaisons between Thompson and the secret campaign efforts both appear to be close allies of the candidates. Longtime Clinton hand Minyon Moore was the unnamed campaign figure who is said in court papers to have connected Thompson with the New York marketing executive who ran the street teams, according to several Washington Post sources. And Hawkins had long been a  personal and political associate of Gray’s, including helping to run his 2004 and 2006 council campaigns.

The difference, though, is that Hawkins has admitted to a crime and has agreed to a plea deal requiring his cooperation, while Moore has not been explicitly named by prosecutors. So while the Clinton revelations may help Gray in the court of public opinion, it’s probably not going to be as much help in U.S. District Court, should it come to that.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · October 15, 2013