Mayor Vincent Gray’s lawyer in the corrosive campaign scandal now playing out is veteran Washington attorney Robert Bennett. His many high-profile clients have included President Bill Clinton and presidential candidate John McCain.
Bennett is friendly and approachable, and he speaks — when he speaks — in simple, declarative sentences. But mostly he tends privately to the legal tangles of his clients.
So we thought it significant last week when Bennett issued a public statement explaining why he’s directed Gray not to comment on the scandal. That’s pretty routine stuff. You don’t want your client to misspeak and worsen the situation with the prosecutors.
But Bennett’s brief statement went on to sharply criticize “some in the media” for treating his client unfairly as well as unnamed others “with their own political agendas.”
Bennett said such critics “are not focusing on the very good things [Gray] is doing for our city — the improvements he has made in city services, the local economy and the welfare of the less fortunate in our community.”
Of Gray’s entanglement in scandal, Bennett said that “there is a rush to judgment based on speculation and a presumption of guilt. He has not been charged with anything, much less convicted.”
We recount nearly every sentence in the Bennett statement for a reason.
Of course Bennett would offer such a defense. But it struck us that except for a couple of advisory neighborhood commissioners and a few ministers, no other significant leaders in public life — elected or otherwise — are defending Gray or aggressively trying to counter the drip, drip, drip of bad news.
Bennett’s role in this case is twofold. He’s trying to protect the mayor’s legal options but also to guide a public figure who no doubt in private is shaken by the turn of events.
It is unlikely Bennett would publicly characterize the current client thusly, but in a 1995 interview with the D.C. Bar, Bennett was asked if defense attorneys must be “cool and analytical and ignore all of the emotion” that surrounds a big case.
Bennett: “Oh, no! Dealing with a client’s emotions is often the most important part. An indictment is not just words on a piece of paper. You’re talking about a human being. When an executive of a company gets into trouble, he’s usually someone who is used to being in control; then all of a sudden the control disappears. He’s facing the worst, most traumatic situation of his life. It’s as if he’s hanging on to the end of a rocket that is taking him places he’s never been before.
“Families are impacted, employees are impacted; the press can get involved in ways that do great damage to one’s reputation. Everything is scrambled up and disrupted. As an attorney you have to deal with all of that. You have to put your arms around the client and say, ‘Come here, let’s sit down and work these problems out together.’”
And that’s what Robert S. Bennett is trying to do for Vincent C. Gray.
■ Catania’s take. When at-large D.C. Council member David Catania called on Gray to resign, the mayor and some others groused that Catania has never gotten along with Gray and that Catania harbors dreams of being mayor.
Catania indirectly answered those critics last week on the WAMU 88.5 Politics Hour.
Catania told the Notebook and host Kojo Nnamdi that he won’t be running for mayor.
Catania acknowledges he had indeed seriously considered such a campaign but said he has decided he doesn’t have the “fire in the belly” it requires.
He said that “there was a time, very honestly, when I was seriously contemplating and would have loved to have been mayor. I think you have to have a certain fire in the belly. You have to want to do it. And you have to be consumed by it. I think I would be a good mayor, … but I don’t want it as much as others. It’s just the truth.”
Almost as soon as Catania spoke, the Notebook got tweets saying the council member intends to run in 2014 to be the first elected D.C. attorney general. There’s no indication of that now, and we’ll leave it to another day.
On WAMU, Catania empathized on a personal level with Gray’s worsening situation. “Here we have what is an otherwise very fine person,” Catania said. “I served with Vince Gray when he was a Ward 7 member and as chairman, and I know he has to wake up every day wondering, ‘What happened?’”
Catania said whether Gray is personally guilty of wrongdoing is almost beyond the point. He said the shadow campaign — now detailed in others’ guilty court pleas — invalidates the mayor’s authority.
“I think he’s lost his legitimacy to govern in light of a compromised election. I think the citizens deserve a fair election.” Catania called the shadow campaign “the largest criminal conspiracy in the history of home rule.”
■ A final word. Celebrated, beloved and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist William Raspberry has died. There have been many glowing tributes for this gentle man who applied tough words with grace and skill.
Funeral services will take place at Washington National Cathedral on Thursday at 10 a.m., with a reception at The Washington Post’s 1150 15th St. NW offices set to follow from 12:30 to 3 p.m.
We’ll allow D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton to have this final word:
“Bill wrote about the world and about life, but he also wrote about the city he called home. Bill Raspberry loved this city, but he never coddled us. He managed to make us listen even when we did not want to hear.”