Opinion: Scandal Heat Just Got Hotter

The yearlong criminal investigation into Mayor Vincent Gray’s 2010 campaign for mayor took a significant turn this week.

For the worse.

Prosecutors charged campaign assistant treasurer Thomas Gore -- a close Gray ally -- with felony destruction of evidence. If Gore continues to cooperate with prosecutors, his penalty could be about two years in prison.

Gore -- appearing somber in federal court Tuesday -- also was charged with three misdemeanors for creating a total of $535 in fake campaign contributions that wound up in the hands of minor mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown.

It’s the first clear evidence that Gray’s campaign did in fact pay Sulaimon Brown to hector then-Mayor Adrian Fenty on the campaign trail that season, just as Sulaimon Brown alleged in The Washington Post in March of last year.

The big question, of course, is whether Vincent Gray knew about the payments to Sulaimon or other diversions of his campaign cash. The federal criminal probe long ago widened into allegations of shadow campaigns and unaccounted-for funds.

And Thomas Gore is no peripheral figure.

As Post reporter Mike DeBonis wrote on Monday, “With a plea deal likely to hinge on Gore’s cooperation, prosecutors have secured a set of eyes and ears in the very center of the Gray campaign.”

Lawyers watching the case say Gore does indeed have “eyes and ears” in the campaign. The question now, they say, is whether he’ll open his mouth to tell what he may know.

Gore was intimately involved in Gray’s 2004 race for the Ward 7 seat and again in 2006 when Gray won the chairmanship. He was there again for the 2010 campaign for mayor.

That’s an insider’s insider.

Gore, 56, has no criminal record. He’s been deeply involved in education and development issues in large parts of Southeast Washington. He lives in Anacostia, in the true historic area of that neighborhood. One person who has known Gore a long time said he was stunned to hear he may be involved in such campaign wrongdoing. Stunned.

At the beginning of the week, there were no comments from Gray or Gore or their attorneys.

The mayor is due to return this week from a retail convention in Las Vegas. It’s an important annual trip for top city officials.

Reporters waiting back home likely will have few questions about what happened in Vegas. As the advertising campaign says, what happens in Vegas can stay in Vegas, as far as many reporters are concerned. We’d really like to know what happened here in the District in that 2010 Gray campaign.

Maybe we’re about to find out.

• Disrespect.

Nothing else. Our major topic this week was going to have been the latest insults from Capitol Hill for our Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and our citizens.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., has proposed legislation in the House to ban abortion after 20 weeks. Norton asked for courtesy to appear before Franks’s subcommittee. Nope, she couldn’t. When she showed up anyway, Franks offered to let her sit with the Democratic members of the committee, but she couldn’t say anything. She rightly declined.

No matter where you are on abortion, it seems un-American to ban a sitting member of Congress from offering testimony on something that affects his or her district.

And elsewhere on the Hill, Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., got the House to pass an amendment to the city’s gun control law.

The amendment -- nonbinding -- would assert that any active member of the U.S. Armed Forces should be able to carry his or her weapon in the District, exempt from city laws. Norton says that could be thousands of guns in the city if the measure were enacted.

In both instances, she said, “They pick on D.C. because they think they can.”

Norton is working with Senate allies to block both bills.

And people wonder why District citizens want a full-fledged voting member of Congress or statehood. No such affront to a congressional district or state would be tolerated.

But we’re just the little ole District. Who really cares?

• Final word.

The city is entering the final days of the budget debate for 2013. D.C. Council members are appearing throughout the city to discuss additions and changes before the final vote.

We spotted this headline on a Ward 3 listserv:

“Council Chair Brown at Ward 3 Dems Thursday to Speak about the Budge.”

Well, the word “budge” means to “move slightly; begin to move.”

Sometimes the budget discussions feel just like that, barely budging.

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