This special edition of the Politics Hour combined local and national politics live from Slim's Diner in Petworth, Northwest D.C.
The man at the center of D.C.’s 2010 shadow campaign scandal was formally charged this morning in federal court. This afternoon, Jeffrey Thompson is expected to plead guilty to two felony counts of conspiracy in connection with fundraising for Mayor Vincent Gray’s 2010 campaign and those of several other elected officials. We get the latest update from WAMU 88.5’s Patrick Madden and Politics Hour Analyst Tom Sherwood.
- Patrick Madden Reporter, WAMU 88.5 News
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, exploring the link between post-traumatic stress disorder and inner-city neighborhoods. But first, breaking news in a legal case that's shaking the earth of local D.C. politics. Federal prosecutors, this morning, charging a prominent D.C. businessman with felonies connected to a campaign finance scandal that tainted the city's 2010 mayoral election.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIA criminal information filed Monday indicates that Jeffrey Thompson, a contractor and prolific fundraiser for D.C. campaigns, will soon be pleading guilty in a long running investigation into the election that put current Mayor, Vincent Gray, in office. It's long been rumored that Thompson financed an illegal $653,000 shadow campaign to support Gray's candidacy.
MR. KOJO NNAMDINow, prosecutors are formally moving against Thompson, just days before early voting is set to begin in Gray's ongoing race for re-election. The mayoral primary, of course, for the Democrats, being on April 1st. Joining us now by phone is WAMU 88.5 reporter Patrick Madden. Patrick, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. PATRICK MADDENGood afternoon, Kojo.
NNAMDIPatrick, rumors have been swirling for the past several days that prosecutors were getting close to this plea agreement from Thompson. What are the charges they're moving against him with, according to the criminal information that was filed this morning?
MADDENWell, the criminal information lists two conspiracy counts. One at the federal level, another at the district level. Now, these conspiracy counts both point to this massive campaign finance scheme that was executed at both the federal level, so, the federal candidates, including a presidential campaign, as well as two local races here in D.C.
MADDENAnd what's interesting is we've been talking about Gray, the 2010 campaign, and when the other shoe was gonna drop, but what's interesting, what's really new in these court documents, is how many campaigns were funded by these shadow efforts. A total of 15 Council and Mayoral candidates, over the years, have received funds through this scheme.
NNAMDIIn fact, several pairs of shoes have, in fact, dropped. But most attention is focused on the Gray campaign of 2010. And I noticed that in the information, there's an allegation, a charge, of $668,000 that went toward that campaign. And, of course, the big question, I guess, is what can you learn from this criminal information? Or what can people expect to learn in the days ahead about what Mayor Gray may have known about all of this?
MADDENRight. So, we should get a much more detailed statement of facts regarding all of this later today, or in the coming days. Thompson is gonna be in court at 1:30 this afternoon, where it's, in all likelihood, he's going to sign a plea deal. That's what these criminal informations (sic) usually indicate -- a plea deal. So, right now, all we have is just that figure. The $668,000 in unreported corporate contributions and the shadow effort. You know, whether Mayor Gray is implicated, you know, the details that it goes into, we don't know that yet, but hopefully, after today's court appearance, we'll have some more information.
NNAMDIAlso joining us now, by phone, is Tom Sherwood. He is our Resident Analyst. He's a reporter for NBC 4 and a Columnist for the current newspapers. Tom, any indications at all, from this criminal information, that there's a possibility, probability, likelihood prosecutors will also accuse Vincent Gray of something?
MR. TOM SHERWOODIf you read the document that was released, and that Patrick was just referring to, it says that the $668,800 was given to the Gray campaign in 2010. It doesn't say Gray in the document. It says, in cooperation with the candidate and the principal campaign committee, so we will have to wait for those additional documents that Patrick mentioned. But I think it's important to note that this overall document says there were like 15 different campaigns. That made two campaigns for Mayor and then a variety of Council candidates who received money.
MR. TOM SHERWOODI just spoke to the Mayor's office and I said in 2006, there's something like $228,000 that went to a campaign, and (unintelligible) tell me that that's the Adrian Fenty campaign. I don't know if it's Adrian Fenty or Linda Cropp, who were the (unintelligible) candidates that year. But I got the impression that if what the Mayor said, it's gonna be the Fenty campaign. So, some of the Mayor's people are telling me, see, this is -- the Mayor didn't know anything about this. Fifteen different candidates have had money like this given to them. So, it bolsters the Mayor's view that he didn't have any knowledge. Now the Mayor's...
NNAMDIIf, in fact, what we do is draw the inference that going back to that $228,000 in the 2006 campaign (unintelligible) all of the others, if we draw the inference that none of those people knew anything illegal was being contributed to their campaign, but is that a fair inference to draw?
SHERWOODWell, I don't think that's a good inference, cause if you read the document, and I don't have it directly in front of me now, but it simply says, in cooperation with the candidates and the principal campaign committee, suggesting that it's not just the committee run amuck, but the candidate must have known something about it.
NNAMDITom, explain exactly what's gonna be happening at 1:30 this afternoon. Patrick mentioned, Patrick Madden mentioned that there's going to be the formal plea this afternoon.
SHERWOODYes. The criminal information was filed -- that's what we've all been talking about, the 10 page document that details the conspiracy in 2006 to spend all this money. And Jeffrey Thompson will appear in court with his attorneys at 1:30. There will be a detailed discussion with the judge about what he's pleading to, then after that, Ronald Machen, the US Attorney is planning, I think, the first press conference is at 5:30. So, that gives you an idea of how long the court case could last. If it goes in the court at 1:30, not for another four hours do we hear from the US Attorney.
SHERWOODRon Machen, who had said in the past that the 2010 campaign deceived the voters of the District of Columbia. And so we're very anxious to see what additional documents come out after the court case and what US Attorney Ron Machen tells us about the probability, if any, of Vincent Gray.
NNAMDIPatrick, Tom, we've been anxious for three years now. People have been watching this case closely for more than three years. We are now three weeks away, almost to the day, to the April 1st Democratic Primary. So, this comes at a very critical time for all of the candidates involved in this race. Why now? Any indications, Tom?
SHERWOODWell, I'm -- oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were asking Patrick. Well, first of all, voting starts next Monday. We're now three weeks away from the election.
SHERWOODPeople will be voting on Monday. Ron Machen has said on "The Politics Hour," and he has said in public, and he has said in private, Tom, I'm aware of the political campaign calendar, but I don't make my judgments based on it. So, they are aware, because the Attorney General Eric Holder has put out a letter of how prosecutors should be careful not to interfere with political campaigns in the pursuit of criminal wrongdoings. But nothing in that letter suggests that they should hold back and not pull a trigger when and if they have all the information.
SHERWOODAnd that's why Ron Machen has said, I'm sensitive to political campaigns, but I'm doing a criminal investigation. I will act when and if, and only if, I get the information. So, I don't think -- I'm sure there will be many people who will say, oh, this is timed to undermine the Mayor, et cetera, et cetera. I think Machen's experience, what I've seen from him, you've got the information, you pull the trigger. That's what he did today.
NNAMDIBut Patrick Madden, everyone who is watching and listening at 1:30 this afternoon, and at 5:30 this afternoon, will obviously be trying to infer that this is going to have an impact on the political race. And looking very closely and listening very closely to what's said.
MADDENRight, exactly. I mean, I think a couple of things. One, we'll listen to what the other candidates in the race are gonna say. I mean, are they gonna jump on this and state that the Mayor should do something because of this? I think it's also important to note, when you're talking about the timing of this is that the lawyer for Jeffrey Thompson, Brendan Sullivan, is well known as someone who will, sort of, you know, these cases will get delayed. And so, and I think when you look back at what's happened, there's been disagreements between the prosecutors and the Mayor's office over some documents that they wanted relating to a Medicaid settlement.
MADDENSo, I do think while the, you know, prosecutors want to be careful about the timeline of, Tom mentioned the, you know, they're supposed to be careful of the political calendar, this has also been dragging on for, you know, three years now. So, I think that's also playing into this.
SHERWOODIf I could add to that, you know, when people have complained to me about why this has taken so long, why, if you've got something, put up or shut up. All those types of things. You know, last November, Ron Machen told us that there's (unintelligible) . And then I tell people who support Mayor Gray that -- I say, listen, Mayor Gray and Jeffrey Thompson haven't refused to talk to the prosecutor, so when you ask the prosecutor to hurry up, the two principals had not talked.
SHERWOODWell now, one of the two principals in the shadow campaign about Mayor Gray, Jeffrey Thompson, apparently, has talked. So, we are now on the cusp of finding out whether or not the Mayor will be tied more directly to Jeffrey Thompson's shadow campaign.
SHERWOODThe court -- in court, people have already pled guilty to the shadow campaign and indicated that Thompson financed it. What we don't know is, did Mayor -- we know he benefited from it. We don't know if he knew about it or if he purposely chose not to know about it, which also would be a crime.
NNAMDIAnd we'll find out more, hopefully, during the course of the afternoon. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst. He's a reporter for NBC 4 and a Columnist for the Current Newspapers. Patrick Madden is a reporter for WAMU 88.5. Tom, Patrick, thank you so much for joining us.
SHERWOODAll right. Thank you.
NNAMDIAnd there seems to be a lot more there than we even thought of, because it was a 10 page charging document. Federal prosecutors say that Thompson, once a well connected D.C. businessman, who held the city's lucrative healthcare contract, used dozens of conduits, including two of his firms and their employees, to make illegal campaign contributions to numerous candidates for elected office. And the practice stretched from 2006 to 2012. So, there's clearly a lot more there. We're gonna be taking a short break. When we come back, we'll be exploring the link between post-traumatic stress disorder and inner-city neighborhoods. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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