D.C.’s politicians win most-investigated award
By Colbert I. King,
Could the current D.C. Council be the most investigated municipal legislative body in America? So it would seem.
The media focus — primarily on the prominent city figures who have fessed up in federal court to doing things they ought not to have done — has drawn attention away from another disturbing development: Several D.C. Council members have, in their own way, attracted the attention of authorities, albeit without indictment or arrest.
Shall we review?
Thus far this year, two council members, former Ward 5 representative Harry Thomas Jr. (D) and former chairman Kwame Brown (D), have been convicted of felonies. Thomas is serving his sentence in a federal prison. Brown is to be sentenced in November.
They are done deals. What’s still hanging fire?
Let’s start with Ward 1 Democrat Jim Graham.
The Metro board is conducting an independent review of the handling of an unsuccessful development project in the city and Graham’s role in it.
Graham, who was the council’s representative on the Metro board when the project was under consideration, maintains that he has done nothing improper and stresses that he has not been accused of wrongdoing by any government authority.
This much is known: The law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft, which Metro hired to investigate the deal, has filed a report with the board’s audit committee. That committee is expected to send its own report to the full Metro board next week.
One hopes the investigation will answer a question raised by The Post’s editorial board: whether Graham “tried to use his influence to punish perceived political enemies and steer business to a favored firm.”
I asked Graham if he had been questioned or deposed in connection with the Metro probe, and he responded by e-mail: “I have been asked specifically to refer all questions regarding this inquiry to the Cadwalder [sic] law firm.”
Graham is receiving taxpayer-provided legal assistance by way of the D.C. Council’s general counsel’s office. Vladlen David Zvenyach, the general counsel, replied in response to my inquiry: “Our office typically provides representation of this sort. It should be noted that there is no criminal allegation involved here.”
The “no criminal allegation” reminder might well be applied to an earlier eyebrow-raising event involving several council members.
Did you forget?
In March, a federal grand jury subpoenaed some of the council members’ campaigns for records — e-mails, invitations and meeting notes — related to political contributions and gifts from Jeffrey E. Thompson, the businessman who has long held the city’s largest contract and whose interests are part of a federal probe into District campaign-finance irregularities.
This unusual demand set off a tizzy downtown. The full scope of the prosecution’s interest is unknown. But according to media reports, the grand jury served subpoenas on the campaigns of Brown; at-large council members Phil Mendelson (D), Michael A. Brown (I) and Vincent Orange (D); Graham; Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Mayor Vincent Gray (D).
Other members have declined to say whether their campaigns have been served.
Should alarm bells be ringing?
Speaking of which, what is Michael Brown hearing?
Washington Examiner columnist Jonetta Rose Barras reported that the U.S. attorney’s office has had possession of Brown’s campaign file since February. That’s well before subpoenas started flying. What is the federal interest in Michael Brown? When will we know it?
Then there is Orange. His chief of staff, Estell Mathis-Lloyd, assured me last week that there are no outstanding issues with the council member’s reelection campaign.
Tell that to the FBI.
A source who has proven reliable in the past told me that the FBI recently interviewed Vicky Wilcher, who worked on Orange’s campaign last year.
The Post reported this spring that, according to Wilcher, a Republican, “Orange’s campaign decided not to pay her directly because it did not want her to show up on campaign finance reports.” Wilcher, who helped lead the 2004 effort to bring slot machines to our nation’s capital, said that the Orange campaign initially sent her payments to a friend, Yvonne Moore.
After The Post found Orange campaign finance records detailing three $1,000 payments to Moore and sought comment on Wilcher’s claim, Moore hung up on our reporter.
Hmmm. Will Moore hang up on the FBI?
Let’s recap: Mayor Gray and eight of the 13 members of the D.C. Council have attracted the attention of authorities.
Can any other city top that?
Read more on this from Opinions: Harold Meyerson: The District earns a page in campaign-finance secrecy The Post’s View: Answers please, Mr. Gray David Alpert: The scandal’s serious, but the city’s solid Tom Sherwood: Brown’s departure puts D.C. voters on the spot Colbert I. King: Unraveling D.C.’s scandals