Tom Sherwood's Notebook: Two Down, One to Go

Vincent Gray investigation remains a mess

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    NEWSLETTERS

    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray

    We only wish we were talking about this dreadful Washington Redskins season. It would be nice if there were just one more miserable game left instead of nine.

    But our headline refers to another miserable mess. That’s the ethics cloud engulfing Mayor Vincent Gray’s administration over his 2010 campaign for mayor.

    This week there was good news and bad news for Gray.

    Congress Threatens to Rewrite D.C. Hiring Laws

    [DC] Congress Threatens to Rewrite D.C. Hiring Laws
    There are growing fears that a series of city government scandals could prompt Congress to take a more active role in how the city is run. One Capitol Hill committee already threatened to rewrite the city's personnel laws to require criminal background checks on city workers.

    A U.S. House committee that oversees the District issued a mixed report on allegations by Sulaimon Brown that Gray’s campaign paid him cash and gave him a $110,000-a-year government job for his attacks on then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.

    The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said it “found evidence corroborating claims by Sulaimon Brown that his campaign for mayor received financial backing linked to a senior campaign operative for Mayor Gray.”

    Congress Can't Confirm Brown's Allegation Against Gray

    [DC] Congress Can't Confirm Brown's Allegation Against Gray
    A House committee said it found evidence of questionable payments to minor mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown by Mayor Vincent Gray's campaign last year, but the congressional committee said it couldn't confirm allegations that Brown got a city job for attacking then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.

    But committee chair Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said, “The investigation did not, however, find independent facts verifying claims that Brown had been promised a D.C. government job … or any evidence that Mayor Gray knew or approved of payments going to Brown’s campaign.”

    Did Gray campaign operative Howard Brooks pay Sulaimon Brown? Did Gray campaign chair Lorraine Green set it up? There’s circumstantial evidence, the committee said.

    “One money order was purchased the same day that [Sulaimon] Brown first met Green and exchanged his first telephone calls with her,” the committee reported. The report says a number of money orders given to Brown were attributed to members of Brooks’s family.

    Brooks, of course, is a businessman who has emerged as the key point person in whatever happened. He has lawyered up and declines comment on anything. News4 and other news organizations have reported that Brooks is cooperating with a federal criminal investigation by U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen.

    The House committee report tracks similarly to findings by the D.C. Council investigation, a probe headed by Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh.

    So that’s two down. But the one to go is the biggest one of all.

    It’s the ongoing probe by Machen into Gray’s campaign activities. On Monday, Cheh told News4 that she hopes the U.S. attorney will act quickly on the criminal issues, if any.

    “I do hope, however, that whatever the U.S. attorney does, that he does it with dispatch,” Cheh said. “It’s enough already. This has been lingering too long. I think at the end of the day what we most need is clarity, a clearing of the air.”

    Of course, the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined comment except to say its review is continuing.

    We’ve noted in this space several times that Machen takes a harsh view of public corruption. We’re anxious to see what he does, too.

    • A side note.

    Howard Brooks is represented by former Prince George’s States Attorney Glen Ivey, who is now preparing a run for Congress against incumbent Democrat Donna Edwards. It’s not clear when and to whom Ivey will hand off the Brooks matter.

    • Scandal fallout.

    Although the House committee found no “smoking guns” of wrongdoing, it is clearly upset over the hiring scandal that engulfed Gray’s early months in office. Top officials resigned after reports that many adult children of Gray’s team also got well-paying jobs. Other appointees have resigned for other reasons or been blocked by the council confirmation process.

    Out of that mess, House committee chair Issa announced Monday that he was offering legislation to force tougher background checks of city officials based on federal hiring practices.

    Although Gray had declined to comment Monday on the new scandal report, he quickly issued a news release saying Issa’s committee should stay out of the city’s hiring process.

    “This legislation is ill-advised and unnecessary,” Gray said. “The District already runs a more stringent background check than the [federal] legislation would require.”

    Well, if that’s the case, Issa might ask, why have the last 10 months been so chaotic?

    Whatever the outcome of the latest legislation, it’s just another example of how scandal in the District invites meddling from Congress. More scandal, more meddling, and suddenly this city could have another control board.

    The scandal cloud, fairly or not, also diffuses any effort by Gray to promote congressional voting rights for the District, let alone statehood.

    If voting rights were based on well-behaved public officials, a lot of states would lose those rights. It’s unfair to hold the District to a standard other states can’t meet. But the fact of the matter is that people do.

    • Halloween’s over.

    We know. We know we should be moving on to Thanksgiving. But we did have a Tweet on Sunday about the Redskins that got a lot of response, and we wanted to share it with you.

    Here’s the text: “For Halloween at work, I’m going as a Redskin. It’ll be easy. I just won’t show up.”

    Despite the trend lines, we’re still hoping the ’Skins show up on Sunday against the 49ers.