There is teflon, and then there is insulated.
This week, federal charges were filed against two senior aides from D.C. Mayor Vince Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign. Thomas Gore pleaded guilty to four counts, including destroying evidence. Howard Brooks is likely to plead guilty today to making false statements.
Brooks has been cooperating with investigators and is believed to have worn the wiretap that ensnared Gore.
Both men worked together in 2010 in what investigators say appears to be a scheme to convert Gray campaign funds into money orders that were then given to Sulaimon Brown. The Gray aides were purportedly financing Brown’s campaign in an effort to encourage the long shot mayoral candidate to continue his outlandish attacks against then-mayor Adrian Fenty.
Whether or not Gore and Brooks acted alone or were directed by other people from the campaign is still unknown. Documents filed in the Gore case suggest a broader conspiracy.
Gray has claimed no knowledge of a scheme.
To date, not a single shred of evidence connects Gray to the crimes.
I am not trying to exonerate Gray, but it might be wise to examine the reality of indicting or convicting him.
First, it is entirely possible that Gray knew nothing. Campaign aides often shield their candidate from the sleazy side of politics.
It is also possible that he knew a bit of what was going on, but not enough to qualify as a co-conspirator. Ronald Machen, the U.S. Attorney in charge of the investigation, has alluded to that possibility. In interviews, Machen has said that some of the things politicians do stink, but they are not crimes.
For the sake of argument, let’s say Gray knew everything and authorized the scheme.
Here is the rub.
People who participated in or had knowledge of crimes could testify to a grand jury that Gray knew every detail. They could go so far as to claim he was the mastermind.
That would surely be enough for an indictment, but would prosecutors seek one?
I doubt it.
Without a smoking gun, Gray would likely survive a trial. No jury is going to convict him based on testimony from two former campaign aides who have been offered plea deals. Even if others step forward the case would be weak.
Investigators are going to need to uncover something tangible before going to trial. Mere words will not be enough to take down the mayor.
By no means, however, is Gray out of hot water. There are unresolved questions about his campaign, a possible “shadow campaign,” and how it is that Brown ended up with a $110,000 government job. There is also the matter of Jeffrey Thompson, a deep-pocket political donor whose offices were raided by the FBI earlier this year. A lot of money connected to Thompson ended up in Gray’s campaign coffers.
For the time being, though, let history be our guide.
It wasn’t too long ago that another mayor, Anthony Williams, had a campaign scandal of his own. In the summer of 2002, thousands of forged petition signatures were filed on his behalf.
Pundits, politicos and critics asked, “What did he know and when did he know it?”
In the end we learned that he knew nothing.
Gray may enjoy the same degree of insulation. Campaign aides for both mayors were dumb enough to commit entirely unnecessary crimes, but they may have been smart enough not to implicate their bosses.
Chuck Thies is a political analyst and consultant. His columns appear every Tuesday and Thursday on First Read DMV. He co-hosts "DC Politics" on WPFW, 89.3 FM. Since 1991, Chuck has lived in either D.C., Maryland or Virginia. Email your tips and complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at @chuckthies.