September 6, 2013

Welcome back to work, D.C. Council members. Hope the summer was fun. Things have been a little slow in the John A. Wilson building, what with the council’s dais empty of preening peacocks.

Not that the rest of the government has been sitting on its hands.

The mayor has been all over town, cutting ribbons like mad: Got scissors, will travel.

The real action, however, has been in the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Fourth Street NW. Lawmakers may have been off during the summer, reclining somewhere in sweet repose. But U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and his team of prosecutors and federal agents have been at it.

Lest anyone forget, a striking number of city political luminaries has pleaded guilty to felonies connected with the D.C. corruption investigation. As part of their plea deals, the defendants agreed in writing to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The agreements are pretty straightforward: Give the investigators credible information that leads to the conviction of other corrupt players in the city — the higher the better, thank you very much — and the prosecutors will put in a good word at sentencing time.

Those who have agreed to work with the feds include well-known political veterans Vernon Hawkins, Michael A. Brown and Jeanne Clarke Harris, as well as some lesser-known but still knowledgeable figures, such as Lee Calhoun and Stanley Straughter.

These defendants have good reasons to cut deals.

Machen has been known to work out lenient conditions for cooperating defendants.

Case in point: Howard Brooks. Several of you council members probably know Howard.

To recall: A year ago, Brooks pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents who were investigating claims that Vincent Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign paid a fringe candidate to remain in the Democratic primary race to harass then-Mayor Adrian Fenty. After lying about it, Brooks admitted to making the payments and agreed to cooperate fully with the feds.

And he did.

Brooks wore a recording device during a conversation he had with Thomas Gore, assistant treasurer of the Gray campaign. Gore was caught admitting that he had destroyed a notebook in which the payments were recorded. Unfortunately for Gore, he had told the FBI otherwise — a big no-no, according to the U.S. Code.

When time came to face the judge, Gore asked for probation. The feds recommended a six-month prison sentence.That’s what Gore got, plus 200 hours of community service.

Brooks, on the other hand, played ball with Uncle Sam. The judge gave Brooks what the feds had recommended: probation.

Is that sufficient incentive for defendants to sing their hearts out? They could make quite a chorus.

Council members, give them an ear . . . and listen for your name.

Michael Brown is proving his worth to the feds, admitting in court documents to a $20,000 contribution to his 2007 council campaign that he concealed as a personal contribution. Brown acknowledged in a plea deal that the money was wired to him from Harris, who got it from a donor identified by sources close to the investigation as D.C. businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson, a big-time fundraiser whose company used to have the city’s largest contract.

Brown may have more stories. Enough dirt, perhaps, to persuade the feds to cut him a little slack when he goes before the judge for sentencing.

Harris’s cooperation is already on the record . She has fingered a co- conspirator — unnamed in court papers but widely believed to be Thompson — as the financier of a scheme of “straw” donations to a $653,000 “shadow campaign” on Gray’s behalf. Harris has also admitted her role in the illegal contribution to Brown’s 2007 campaign.

Attention, council members: Harris reportedly has assisted Thompson in funneling straw contributions to other political campaigns. Ever see her around your campaign headquarters with a little sumpin’ sumpin’? Don’t wait for the FBI to come calling. Now’s the time to get right with the government.

Just a thought.

Hawkins, who pleaded guilty last month to lying to the feds, also disclosed in court that he worked with Harris and Thompson in drawing up a budget for the illegal shadow campaign.

Hawkins, who is not in the best of health, faces up to 16 months behind bars. He can probably get that knocked down by giving the government a little sumpin’ sumpin’ of his own.

Jeff Thompson probably won’t be enough. Despite having top-flight defense attorney Brendan Sullivan in his corner, Thompson is toast. Machen doesn’t need Hawkins to take down Thompson. Others are lined up to do that.

So what can Hawkins contribute to his own cause?

Gray has denied any knowledge of secret contributions to his 2010 campaign and has not been charged with any crime.

What can Hawkins deliver? Some of you in City Hall know the answer.

Welcome back to the building.

But for how long?

Read more from Colbert King’s archive.