Sherwood’s Notebook: ‘There’s There There’


A year ago this month, we had the chance to sit down with U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen for an hour-long talk about his family life, his career and his time as U.S. attorney for the District.

And, of course, we were going to ask about his investigation of Mayor Vincent Gray’s 2010 campaign — which was long-running even then.

Many people wanted to know what was taking so long. So during the interview before a live audience at the Hill Center on Capitol Hill, we asked. (You can still see it on YouTube.)

Critics were pointing out that the investigation had begun in March 2011, shortly after Gray had taken office. And now, three years later, Gray in late 2013 was preparing to run for re-election in 2014. Critics of Machen were wailing. Charge Gray or let him be, they screamed.

Machen was resolute. And at that interview a year ago, he replied by noting that four people associated with Gray’s first campaign had pleaded guilty to felonies.

"It's not like we’ve been looking at this for three years and there's no there there," he said firmly. "I mean, there’s there there. And we’re trying to gather information; we're trying to get documents and we're trying to talk to people."

The comments from the usually taciturn U.S. attorney exploded in the news. The Washington City Paper later even named "there's there there" as its quote of the year.

Since that interview, even more people have been charged and pleaded guilty, including Jeffrey Thompson, who financed a $3.3 million web of illegal campaign donations and expenses. It was a scheme far beyond the $660,000 that funded the shadow campaign for Gray.

Thompson and prosecutors said in court last March 20 that Gray knew of the illegal scheme. Mayor Gray, by then just weeks away from his bid for re-election in the April 1 Democratic primary, called Thompson a flat-out liar. But the damage was done.

Gray lost the primary to Ward 4 D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser, who had urged Gray in 2012 to resign because of the scandal’s impact on his ability to govern.

Fast-forward to now. Bowser has won the general election and will be sworn in as mayor on Jan. 2, 2015. Mayor Gray, who had refused to publicly endorse Democratic nominee Bowser in her race against independent David Catania, has since publicly congratulated her and promises a smooth transition.

But back to Machen.

As Bowser prepares to begin her term, Machen is nearing five years in office. That’s a long time. The U.S. Senate approved him in February 2011 — just as The Washington Post’s Nikita Stewart was about to break news of the shadow campaign.

Given all of the legal upheaval of the shadow campaign, and the political defeat of Gray last April, where does the investigation of Gray stand now?

We asked Machen's spokesperson Bill Miller.

"We really can't comment at this point other than to say the investigation is continuing," Miller told us.

As we’ve written before, Machen early on vowed to pursue public corruption anywhere it took him, saying specifically that the shadow campaign had “deceived the voters.”

Some insist Mayor Gray has been punished enough by those same voters, who turned him out of office despite a mostly admirable time as mayor. Those same people want to see Gray ride off into the sunset facing no charges or legal hurdles.

At this point, Machen is still on the case and the sun is not setting yet on either Mayor Gray or Machen’s investigation.

■ Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser. The mayor-elect is putting together her transition team and transition website, She won a decisive victory — by a wider margin than her own campaign had privately expected.

Bowser, in a post-election news conference and on WAMU’s "Politics Hour," has pledged to move beyond the scandal of the Gray era and to oversee a local government that "will make you proud."

As a citizen of the city, we’re all for that. As a reporter, we’ll be watching. Veteran Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King offers some good insight and advice for the incoming mayor. Read him online at

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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