It is hard to believe the crassness of Michael A. Brown’s crime.
Even as then-D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown was legally imploding and former Ward 5 Council member Harry Thomas was heading off to prison a year ago, at-large member Michael Brown was accepting handfuls of cash from undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen.
Michael Brown -- who last November lost re-election and this year aborted a comeback attempt -- pleaded guilty to a felony bribery charge Monday and later will be heading to prison.
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Here is how U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen put it Monday:
“After seeing two of his former colleagues resign in disgrace, after promising voters that he had never violated the public trust, after hearing warnings from myself and from law enforcement, Michael Brown made the audacious choice to sell the public trust for cold, hard cash,” Machen said in a written statement.
The U.S. attorney said the corrupt businessmen “were not real, but what was real was Michael Brown’s willingness for put a for sale sign on his D.C. Council seat.”
Machen has completed a hat trick -- three convictions of public officials -- but he is far from done.
“This prosecution should make clear that we will not allow the politics of pay to play to flourish in the District of Columbia,” Machen said Monday in his summation of the Brown matter. “We will not tolerate the back room deals, the secret payments, and the unreported cash that corrupt not only our elections and public officials but our entire system of government. Our work will not stop until we stamp out the show-me-the-money culture that has deprived the great citizens of the District of Columbia of the honest government that they so desperately want and deserve.”
Compare that to what Machen first said when he successfully prosecuted participants in the notorious “shadow campaign” that helped elect Vincent Gray mayor in 2010.
That shadow campaign “deceived” the people of the District, Machen said. “Deceived” -- a powerful word. And that investigation is ongoing.
There are some people who believe, without a shred of evidence, that Machen has made a deal with Gray; that Gray will finish his term and won’t seek re-election in exchange for not facing criminal charges.
In a word, hogwash.
Anyone who knows Machen or reads his public statements knows he is not looking to settle. He’s looking to clean house.
Timothy Gallagher, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Washington office, appeared with Machen on Monday. In his own statement, Gallagher said the FBI is all-in with the prosecutors.
“This case is not only one more example of an elected official violating the public trust for their own benefit, but it is also another example of the determination and resolve of law enforcement in putting an end to such activity,” he said. “We will not stop our pursuit until public corruption is a thing of the past within the District of Columbia.”
To any public official out there who has done something illegal, allowed something illegal to occur or pretended not to notice blatant illegality, just be sure that you’re not safe. The cliché is that “thieves fall out.” They tell on each other. They cut deals.
Michael A. Brown has not just pleaded guilty; he’s “cooperating” with authorities in their investigations. His sentencing has been put off until October. That’s plenty of time to tell all he knows.
In the immortal words of feisty actress Bette Davis, “Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy night.”
■ And Jack makes 3 in the race.
Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans announced his campaign for mayor on Saturday. Evans paid homage to the ethics morass in the city, pledging a clean government. Anyone who behaves unethically “will be gone” from his administration, he said.
Mayoral candidates Tommy Wells from Ward 6 and Muriel Bowser from Ward 4 have staked their own claims to ethics purity. There are differences among the three announced candidates in terms of what campaign contributions should be banned, how stringent disclosure rules should be and what penalties should be assessed.
But there’s no doubt that as the 2014 campaign for mayor revs up, the biggest player on the campaign field is in fact none of the candidates, but U.S. Attorney Machen.
He will let us know when or if Mayor Gray will be cleared to run for re-election. In the meantime, for any of you out there who have violated the law or are thinking about it, remember Michael A. Brown.
Son of Ron Brown, a national figure in the Democratic Party, Michael Brown had a respectable career virtually handed to him on a silver platter -- and he turned it into fool’s gold.
Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.