ARLINGTON, VA - MARCH 13: DC Democratic Mayoral Candidates Tommy Wells and Vincent Gray mix it up during debate live at News Channel 8 in Arlington, VA. A large portion of the debate centered around federal campaign funding corruption charges in Mayor Gray's previous campaign for mayor. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and his challengers in the April 1 Democratic primary squared off for the first time Thursday since federal prosecutors alleged that Gray knew of an illicit scheme by donor Jeffrey Thompson to help him win office four years ago. The following is a transcript of the candidates’ exchange. The debate aired on NewsChannel 8 and was moderated by NewsTalk host Bruce DePuyt:

Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4): People in the District of Columbia want to know the truth about the matters that the U.S. Attorney is investigating, and I am confident he is going to investigate and bring these matters to a close and make sure everybody is brought to justice who had some form of wrongdoing.

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6): Jeffrey Thompson has had a corrupting influence on a lot of our elected positions here in D.C. ... so that’s got to be addressed. It really is what happens when you have, certainly contractors who want to protect their contracts, pay to play in the district, and where you see the consequences on Monday of what can happen. And frankly, all three of my opponents up here have taken money from Jeffrey Thompson, I haven’t taken one dime from him.

Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2): I am very happy the U.S. Attorney is pursuing that and should pursue that. I wish he had done it quicker, faster, so that it wasn’t two, two-and-a-half weeks out from an election. That, I think, was unfortunate, but we are where we are. … I want to point out that in our records, I have one check from Jeff Thompson back in 2008 and one check from his accounting firm, period. Now, Muriel, you’ve taken a ton of checks from him, so you might want to address that.”

Bowser: Mr. Thompson contributed to two of our elections. We took no money under the table. We took no money outside of the rules.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D): I’ve said publicly, to anyone who will listen to me, that I don’t think the truth has come out in this situation and you look at the “punishment” that was meted out to Mr. Thompson and one has to question how you can be involved in 28 separate elections in the way that he was in illicit ways and wind up getting a, you know, punishment of 6 months of house arrest.

I don’t have any reservations about saying that we asked him to raise money for us. He did that. I’ve explained in innumerable times how that money was given to our campaign. I knew nothing about the illicit activity that has now been alleged. I was not involved in it.

DePuyt: Did you know about the ‘shadow campaign’ in the summer of 2010 when you were running against Adrian Fenty?

Gray: No, I did not

DePuyt: You thought it was all above board?

Gray: Absolutely.

Wells: The system that we currently have, that when you ask Jeffrey Thompson to raise money for you .. they expect something in return.

Gray: There was no quid pro quo associated with this, as Mr. Wells suggests. There was no, Jeffrey Thompson never asked me for anything. We have said innumerable times that the settlement that was involved with Chartered Health … an independent actuary was involved in this, you had the office of the attorney general, [Irvin B. Nathan], four or five attorneys who work for him, you had the department of health care finance … it is absolutely absurd to suggest that they were all complicit in some scheme to get money to Chartered Health and Jeffrey Thompson.”

Bowser: Tommy raised an important point about campaign cash being traded for a government contract – and that’s exactly what, what I think is at play. We know that Jeffrey Thompson sought those increases from the previous administration, from Adrian Fenty, and they denied it, and that gives a reason why they were so eager to get Adrian Fenty out of office. Very shortly after the mayor took office is when we get a sweetened contract deal come before the council.

Wells: When we talk about why this is so close to the election, Vince Gray, you and the Attorney General initially wouldn’t turn over the documents related to the Jeffrey Thompson deal, that’s what delayed it this far … to say there’s some conspiracy, or bad timing, I do believe your administration had everything to do with it being this late.

Gray: If there was a quid pro quo, let’s put it on the table. I know there was no quid pro quo. .. the issue was more a procedural one about attorney-client privilege, and that was the issue fought by Irv Nathan and his attorneys, I said ‘give it to them, I don’t care.’ If someone has now discovered that there was something improper about that settlement, then put it on the table.

DePuyt: If as you insist, you did not do anything, why not go the U.S. Attorney, tell them what you know?

Gray: I followed the advice of my attorney, Bruce, and that was the advice he gave me. In the interviews we have done this week, I have been extremely forthcoming. I invited people in to interview me. …

I have made it clear, Bruce, I didn’t do anything, and if anyone of these folks to my left or to my right have additional information to contribute to that, I suggest that they put it on the table, take it over to the U.S. Attorney and give it them.

Transcript edited for clarity.