Why Jeffrey Thompson’s guilty plea (and Minyon Moore) matter to Hillary Clinton


Amanda Voisard/For the Washington Post - Jeffrey E. Thompson, center, enters the courthouse before pleading guilty Monday to charges of violating campaign finance laws.

Update 3:07 p.m.: Breaking news -- As our own Matea Gold and Rosalind S. Helderman report, court documents show Thompson "depicted Moore as playing a far more intimate role in the off-the-books campaign than was previously known — securing the money and helping guide the strategy by feeding internal campaign documents and receiving messages about the media coverage."

If true, this would certainly bring the scandal closer to Clinton's orbit, though prosecutors say there is no evidence that the candidate herself was aware of any of this.

The original post follows:

The Washington businessman who pleaded guilty Monday to crafting an illegal shadow campaign to help D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray get elected in 2010 isn't just a major headache for Gray's reelection campaign this month.

He's also had ties to a past campaign of a much bigger potential candidate for office: Hillary Clinton.

Prosecutors say in documents released in connection with Thompson's plea deal that Gray wasn't the only politician to benefit from Thompson's secret political campaigns. So, too, did Clinton, in her 2008 presidential primary campaign.

There's no evidence that her campaign was involved in any wrongdoing. But as with all things campaign finance, there are many layers to this case that will be closely scrutinized.

Let's walk through it.

First, here's the Washington Post recap from September, when Thompson's problems were first tied to Clinton:

The businessman, Jeffrey E. Thompson, allegedly provided more than $600,000 to fund secret get-out-the-vote efforts to help Clinton in at least four primary states. Prosecutors do not expect to pursue a separate criminal case against Clinton’s campaign, these people said.

 ...

Investigators have focused their questioning on the role of Minyon Moore, a senior campaign adviser, and the extent of her role in arranging a “street teams” operation in Texas, Indiana, North Carolina and Pennsylvania that was financed by Thompson and run by marketing executive Troy White, according to those sources.

These people and others familiar with the investigation spoke on the condition of anonymity because the probe is continuing. An attorney for White declined to comment, as has Thompson’s attorney, Brendan Sullivan.

Moore’s employer, the political consulting firm Dewey Square Group, issued a statement on her behalf this week, saying that she “was entirely unaware of any inappropriate activities” and is cooperating with authorities.

The problem with these contributions was that they were never disclosed to the Federal Election Commission and, thus, there's no way of verifying that the contributions followed federal rules. In the case of Gray's campaign, the contributions ran afoul of the law. (Indeed, there's little reason to avoid disclosure if the donations are legitimate.)

Here's where our own Sean Sullivan picks it up:

Court documents show that White reached out to the Clinton campaign and pitched his services, offering "street teams" to distribute stickers, signs and other promotional material. The campaign passed. "Unfortunately, we are not going to be able to use the street teams," Guy Cecil, then Clinton's national political and field director, told White, according to documents and people close to the case.

In other words, there is some evidence that the Clinton campaign knew about the concept of the "street teams" -- at least in broad brushstrokes and in its early stages. But there's no evidence that it knew they would proceed in an illegal fashion.

In addition to that, there's the role that the top Clinton adviser, Moore, allegedly played in connecting White and Thompson. But again, knowing about  the effort in broad terms doesn't mean she was involved in the wrongdoing.

What really matters is not whether the Clinton campaign knew about the effort but whether it can be tied to or knew about the illegal aspect of it.

Thompson said in pleading guilty that Gray was well aware of what he was doing and that they conspired to conceal it (using the amazing nom de plume "Uncle Earl" for Thompson). Gray denies Thompson's allegations.

If a similar connection is made to one of Clinton's advisers, that would be a potential liability for the potential 2016 presidential candidate. At this point, though, there is little known about Moore's connection to the effort, with no new details coming out since September.

For now, Thompson has officially acknowledged what he did was wrong. The question from there is how many other people will be implicated.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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Aaron Blake | March 11