In all our years in journalism, we had never been to two courthouses in one day.
We suspect Kwame Brown hadn’t been, either -- until last Friday.
The disgraced former chairman of the D.C. Council mumbled his way through two court appearances for his guilty pleas, ending probably the worst week of his life -- at least the worst week so far.
He’ll be back in both U.S. District Court and D.C. Superior Court on Sept. 20 to be sentenced for the felony and misdemeanor now on his record. Some minimum prison time is expected.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon asked Brown if he had been coerced into pleading guilty or thought there was anything wrong with the plea agreement outlining the stunningly amateurish fraud that cost him his career. “No, your honor,” Brown said softly.
Some thought the U.S. Attorney’s Office came up short, that Brown committed bank fraud, but only inflated his income and assets like maybe millions do. That’s baloney. Brown falsified a federally required document to boost his fake income by $50,000, then signed a friend’s name to the forgery. We’re not sure which is worse, but both were crimes.
But rather than rehashing what we’ll call the Kwame crimes, we want to focus this week on the prosecutors and what’s next. As the headline above suggests, other major characters in these ongoing city scandals haven’t even appeared yet.
“When we start these investigations, we go soup to nuts,” said U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, speaking Friday after Brown’s pleas. “There’s going to be consequences.”
His most chilling words should strike fear in wrongdoers: “We still have got ongoing investigations.”
That’s right, folks, just the middle of the movie. More popcorn, anyone?
• D.C. corruption unique?
Reporters asked Machen if local D.C. is unusually corrupt. It’s a commonplace canard since Marion Barry’s days as mayor. Machen took it head-on.
“You’ve got to be careful when you start throwing stones at D.C.,” he said. “Corruption is everywhere. It’s not a D.C. problem. Corruption affects all of our governments. It’s all across the country.”
• The race factor.
And yes, some folks are charging that the Kwame Brown prosecution is part of a concerted and targeted effort to convict black politicians in the District. Machen, who is African-American, responded with ease.
“We’re being very inclusive,” he said. “This doesn’t have any color. It’s not a witch hunt.”
Machen said hurling the racial charge is “an easy excuse” for those who don’t want to see the plain words of the plea agreements.
We’ve mentioned a couple of times that Machen’s chief deputy in all this public corruption stuff is Vinnie Cohen Jr., the African-American son of the late Vinnie Cohen Sr., a lion in city life, politics and law for decades. And we might as well point out that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, to whom the U.S. attorneys report, is also proudly African-American.
While there’s no doubt racism is and can be a serious undercurrent in any part of American life, it is quite a stretch -- and insult -- to think that these three accomplished men of color are somehow knowingly kowtowing to ingrained racism or a white conspiracy. Enough said.
• That long walk.
When Brown was finished in federal court, he walked out the front door with his attorney Fred Cooke to cross the big courthouse plaza at 3rd Street and Constitution downtown. Brown made the agonizing walk knowing cameras were all over him.
He became choked with emotion when he read his prepared statement, apologizing to the city, his family and friends -- “to all those I have let down.”
In 2005, a young Kwame Brown walked into the John A. Wilson Building as a rising star in city politics.
On Wednesday of last week, he resigned as chairman of the council when his plea deal became public.
And on Friday of last week, he walked out of federal court a convicted felon.
Sadly, a lot of his wrongdoing was undertaken so he could own a pleasure boat called “Bullet Proof.”
Well, maybe the boat was.
• A good week for Machen.
As bad as the week was for Kwame Brown, the legal standing of Ronald Machen rose a bit higher.
At the end of the day Friday, Attorney General Holder appointed Machen as one of two U.S. attorneys to investigate the possible unauthorized disclosure of classified information about an anti-terrorist “kill list.”
Republicans complain that President Barack Obama’s administration leaked the information to make the president look tough. Obama said such leaks are a blow to all Americans and to the armed forces.
Now Machen’s office will do an investigation, and Rod J. Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney in Maryland, will conduct a parallel review.
• A final word.
It was to happen after our deadline, but it appeared at-large Council member Phil Mendelson was lining up the votes to become interim chairman of the council until a special election in November. More on that next week.