Kojo chats with two reporters who spent the past year following the launch of Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, D.C.'s new school for boys of color. Their stories are now featured in "Raising Kings," a collaboration between NPR and Education Week.
A guilty plea in a federal corruption case sends shock waves through the D.C. Council. A power-sharing dispute sets Virginia’s legislative session off to a shaky start. And Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s talk of a sales tax hike is causing rumbles in Annapolis. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Mike DeBonis Reporter, The Washington Post
- Rod Rosenstein U.S. Attorney, District of Maryland
- Tim Day Former Republican Candidate, D.C. Council (Ward 5)
Tim Day, former Republican candidate for the D.C. Council (Ward 5), talks about continuing criticism he’s received from some members of the public for exposing former D.C. Councilman Harry Thomas Jr.’s theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars from city funds intended for youth programs during the 2010 political campaign process. Resident analyst Tom Sherwood and guest analyst Mike DeBonis also expressed surprise that neither residents nor Thomas’s colleagues appear to be more outraged over his actions:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour, starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. No time to waste today because we've got a guest analyst who talks a lot, way too much, and I can say that because, well, he's not here yet. And as soon as Mike DeBonis walks into the studio, he'll probably start talking, so allow me and our resident analyst to begin.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIOur resident analyst is Tom Sherwood. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood has been in court again this morning. What's up with you and going to court all the time?
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, you know, I was just trying to find the paperworks I could refer to. I don't want to make any mistakes with an attorney in the room here.
NNAMDII see. We do have an attorney in the room who we'll introduce shortly. But the case you were following this morning was a case that is related to the case of former Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr., the case of one Marshall Banks.
SHERWOODYeah. Mr. Banks, I just, you know, I have to say I try not -- you have to keep in emotions out of this stories, but, you know, he's a 71-year-old professor at Howard. He has a long -- he has never been charged with anything in his life. He has a long history of trying to help kids, children and various programs. He helps start -- he started and helped start the Langston 21st Century program.
SHERWOODSay all that somewhat sympathetically except, he did plead guilty to passing checks, essentially being a pass-through for convicted felon, Harry Thomas Jr. now. He would -- Thomas had money directed from one massive city agency to the 21st Century nonprofit, and then, he wrote checks to Harry Thomas Jr. Now, here's -- that he did not in any way take money. There's nothing in the legal papers that he took money and went on the scandalous trips and other things, but he did, in fact, write checks.
SHERWOODAnd then, he found out, apparently, in the course of writing of these checks to Mr. Thomas, that Mr. Thomas was not in fact sending him young people not do anything with the money for the public good. But once he found out about it, apparently he didn't do anything about it.
NNAMDIHe was supposed to report it.
SHERWOODAnd he was supposed to stop it, report it, whatever, and certainly not writing any more checks. So it was a -- like last week, I was just an angry citizen and furious as I watched the Tommy Thomas Jr. thing. I felt the same kind of -- a little bit of anger, but I also felt like this was a person who got onto a train. He didn't know where it was going, and when he did, he didn't get off in time.
NNAMDIThere's also a situation that involved a councilmember who was offered a bribe and did not accept it, but did not report it. Apparently, this situation is not necessarily comparable.
SHERWOODOh, yeah. There was a -- again, I am not an attorney. I want to say that.
SHERWOODAnd the Jim Graham case, there were, as I understand it, three separate instances, this one in particular, where there could have been some corruption and behavior had he followed through. The case you're talking about his aide brought money and put it on the desk did not say that it was in fact a bribe but said it was a gift, money you could have. And Graham rejected the money, in fact was very nervous about it, wrote his name on the document to show that he had it, and he was handing it back.
SHERWOODAnd some people thought he should have reported that to authorities because it had the odor of a bribe, but the actual words spoken was not, so it could easily been.
NNAMDIAnd then, there are the tribulations of William Shelton, a former D.C. advisory commissioner from Ward 5, who apparently used his official ANZ debit card to steal nearly $30,000 in District funds. And he was charged Wednesday with access device fraud in the District's federal court. If I was a Ward 5 resident, I would seriously consider not paying taxes because it seems that my tax dollars...
SHERWOODIf you don't pay taxes, you'll join that crowd of people who violate the law.
SHERWOODI wouldn't recommend that course of action.
NNAMDIIf my tax dollars seemed to be used as an ATM by my elected officials, I'd have some problems with that.
SHERWOODWell, I do think that people, particularly at Ward 5, should be disgusted by the Harry Thomas admission. You know, he's still in the steps of the Wilson Building. Harry Thomas did and said there was nothing more important to him than his reputation and that of his family. He managed to besmirch both. In this case, ANZ member -- we have a lot of ANZ members. They represent each about 2,000 citizens. He had access to money. He took it. He spent it on himself. And he will now pay the price.
NNAMDIAnd that's the story. Tom Sherwood, he is our resident analyst, an NBC 4 reporter...
SHERWOODI feel like an avenging angel in this.
NNAMDI...and a columnist for the Current Newspapers, just doing his job. The dominos are falling in the District, where, as we mentioned, the local lawmaker pleaded guilty last week to federal corruption charges. But a more or a little more than a year ago, the dominos started to fall in Prince George's County for our next guest. Rod Rosenstein is the United States attorney for the district of Maryland. Rod Rosenstein, thank you so much for joining us.
ATTY. ROD ROSENSTEINThank you. Glad to be here.
NNAMDIAn investigation that you were pursuing picked up the pace with a raid on the county executive's home, an investigation that ultimately resulted in more than a dozen guilty pleas, including those from a county housing official, police officers, Jack Johnson, the aforementioned county executive and his wife, all without a single trial. What was the strategy that you pursued when you were building this case? And at what point did you begin to realize that this was something that went all the way to the top in Prince George's County?
ROSENSTEINWell, Kojo, it's depressing to follow Tom and that list of corruption, but unfortunately, you know, corruption is endemic to government. And the way that we prevent corruption is by investigating and prosecuting it by encouraging people when information comes to their attention when they're the targets of a corrupt official or allegations of corruption come to their attention to bring it to the attention of federal law enforcement.
ROSENSTEINAnd that's what we did in the Jack Johnson case. That case was the product of a lengthy investigation by the FBI that involved a number of leads that have come to our attention over the years. And really, the reason that Mr. Johnson and so far all but one of the other defendants charged in the case have pleaded guilty, it's because of the legwork that went into the investigation by the FBI and by the U.S. Attorney's Office, in particular the wiretap conversations, some of which were made public, that make it very difficult for a defendant to be able to walk into court and claim that he's innocent of the crime.
ROSENSTEINAnd one of the challenges we face in corruption cases is that the defendants often are people who have standing in the community. They're respected. They have people who would come into court and testify as character witnesses on their behalf. And in order to prove those defendants guilty, you really need to have very powerful evidence, not just the testimony of other criminals but something that objectively is going to be very difficult for them to deny. And that's what we have in the Johnson case.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850, send a tweet, @kojoshow, email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. I can't see Tom or I investigating something for over five years and realizing maybe a year or two into it that we have something without the temptation to say let's go now. What was it that gave you the patience to wait long enough until you had such an apparently airtight case that you got guilty pleas with no trials?
ROSENSTEINWell, that's exactly right. The challenge that we face in investigating corruption is you don't want to move prematurely and expose the investigation or bring a case that you're not going to be able to prove in court. And so when we're conducting those sorts of investigations, we do want to make sure that we continue following all leads. And when we've concluded that there's no more evidence to be found or we've concluded that we've collected such overpowering evidence that we can prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt in court, that's when we pull the trigger.
ROSENSTEINBut those sorts of decisions are really made continually throughout the investigation. In the Johnson case, for example, the decision ultimately was made in November of 2010 to confront Mr. Johnson with the evidence that we had gathered. And it was only following that that the more dramatic events occurred. Mr. Johnson calling his wife and then the recorded conversation of her destroying the evidence, and that was really just a consequence of all the investigation and all the legwork that had preceded it.
SHERWOODI was surprised Mr. Johnson, given his background, wasn't he the county -- U.S...
NNAMDIHe was the state's attorney for Prince George's County.
SHERWOOD... state's attorney I knew. Does that surprise you that someone who has been in the state's attorney position would be so, well, corrupt?
ROSENSTEINIt does surprise me, and it disappoints me. You know, I've been prosecuting corruption cases for 20 years, and our goal isn't to prosecute more corruption cases. Our goal is to deter corruption, and so you would hope that people would get the message after a while. But I think the fact that they don't is really proof that government is always going to attract people who are looking to take advantage.
ROSENSTEINAnd even when you have somebody like Mr. Johnson, who had a background in law enforcement, you'll think he would know better. If you listen to those recordings that have been made public, he sort of mocks law enforcement. He's aware that they're allegations. He's aware that he's been under investigation. But, yeah, to him, according to what you hear on the tapes, corruption is just a way of doing business, and he's not intimidated by the fact that he might be investigated.
SHERWOODIt's unfortunate for our metropolitan Washington area that we've had those cases that have to be brought to trial. And now, we're amidst of the Tommy -- Harry Thomas Jr. case. Do you in anyway talk to Ronald Machen, who was the U.S. attorney for the District? Do you -- because there are some crosspollination with -- in the area. Do you talk to him very much or others about this?
ROSENSTEINWe do. I talk to Ron Machen, and our staff coordinates with his staff very frequently, more often really on drug and violent crime cases across the border than on corruption and fraud cases. But we have a fair amount of coordination. And in fact, one of the most significant corruption cases we brought on my watch in the office was the case involving the D.C. tax office, Harriette Walters, a case that actually began with evidence that was uncovered in Maryland of these checks (unintelligible).
SHERWOODYeah. I had to go all the way out to Greenbelt for one of those stories.
NNAMDIHe had trouble finding that.
ROSENSTEINI assure you it's worth the trip. But that's right. And that case, I think, really demonstrates and the point that Kojo was making, which is that, you know, this corruption is always going to grow in government. Ms. Walters admitted that she had started that scheme. I think 17 or 18 years before, she started small. And when she realized that nobody was minding the store, she just got more and more greedy, to the point where ultimately she stole almost $50 million from the citizens of D.C.
SHERWOODThat seems like with Harry Thomas, I mean, if you look at the legal papers in that case, he took $25,000 the first year, then say, hey, well, and the next year, he takes 278,000. Is it just the people -- why is public corruption when -- it just seems to me that people go into public service and public election and all that ought to know that there's a very high standard. And that -- but we were never surprised. It just continues on and on that people do get caught up in this.
ROSENSTEINYeah. The Maryland legislature is now considering stiffening its ethics rules, and Jaime Raskin, who's one of our Maryland state senators, was quoted the other day, saying that there are a lot of ways in America to get rich, but going into government shouldn't be one of them. And I agree with that. But, unfortunately, government does sometimes attract people who see it as an opportunity to enrich themselves at the expense of the public.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, our guest is Rod Rosenstein. He is the United States attorney for the district of Maryland. He prosecuted the case of Jack Johnson, former Prince George's County executive, and 14 others who all pled guilty without a trial. When we spoke with Ron Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District a few months ago, he told us that citizens need to realize the things that smell bad don't always qualify as illegal under the law. Having said that, here's Mary in Riverdale Park, Md. Mary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARYYes. We're experiencing the Cafritz development in Riverdale Park, and there's a lot of things going on there that don't seem really quite kosher with it. But there's no way that we can prove that there's anything illegally happening. Last night, there was a zoning board meeting, and College Park was actually -- they made a motion for College Park to be excluded from the MUTC zone.
MR.Whatever that is.
MARYAnd they are the only -- that's a zoning area that has been...
MR.But I guess the point that you're making, Mary, is that something smells bad to you, but you're trying to figure out how you can discern whether there's anything illegal going on. And I will put that question to Rod Rosenstein.
ROSENSTEINWell, Kojo, we encourage people, like Mary, who believe they have evidence that are -- or suspicion even, that there may be corruption to report it to the authorities. Don't assume that we already know, and I encourage people in Maryland to call the FBI at 410-265-8080, and let them know what you know, or write a letter, send an email. You know, sometimes people assume that if they know something or they read something that law enforcement must know it as well, we're not omniscient.
ROSENSTEINAnd so we really rely upon people to bring to that kind of information to our attention. I don't know whether that lead would necessarily pan out, but obviously we take in a lot of intelligence. We filter it, and it's our job to make sure that we proceed only when we have a credible basis to believe there really is corruption.
NNAMDIFrom a prosecutorial standpoint, what challenge do public corruption cases present to you? It seems the Justice Department itself has had a mixed record, if you will, on some of the cases in recent years, the Ted Stevens case, being an example.
ROSENSTEINI think we're always going to have a mixed record in the sense that, you know, you never expect 100 percent of your cases to result in convictions. When we get an acquittal, which happens from time to time in Maryland as well, what we try to do is look back on the case and determine whether or not, you know, we made a mistake. Now, on the Stevens case, the Justice Department acknowledged that it made an error, and we've taken remedial actions. We've changed our training. We've changed our disclosure policies to try to prevent that kind of situation from arising again.
ROSENSTEINBut generally speaking, Kojo, we're very cautious about these corruption cases, so they get a lot more screening than our other cases. We consider the fact that corruption defendants may well be able to present character evidence that they may have records of achievement that are going to result in jury's being even more inclined than usual to give them the benefit of the doubt. And so we really make sure our I's are dotted and T's are crossed in the corruption cases.
SHERWOODHow do you decide -- do you -- you have like 75 attorneys, is that right? And you have a -- for you to decide, OK, we're gonna go, we're going to pursue the information we've gotten about Jack Johnson. We're gonna pursue that. Do you have, like, a core committee of people that -- I know it's your decision, but do you have a core group of people? Do you have to check in with the Eric Holder and the U.S. attorney? I mean, the attorney general's office? How independent are you to just say, this is an elected official. We know it's sensitive, but we must go forward?
ROSENSTEINWell, on high-profile cases, we do alert the Department of Justice. But typically, it's not in the form of a veto. It's just a matter of alerting them to potential issues that may come up. Each U.S. attorney has discretion in how they organize their office, and we obviously have a lot of priorities. Corruption is a high priority, but in terms of manpower, it's actually not our highest. The majority of our resources are devoted to violent crime in Maryland.
SHERWOODDrugs and violent crime.
ROSENSTEINThat's correct. But we do have a core of attorneys who specialize in corruption in fraud cases. It requires a different type of investigative skill, and then in particular, requires law enforcement agents who are going to do the difficult work of sorting through bank records and paperwork and developing the evidence that's gonna be required to make this case. So it does require a commitment of resources, and it requires expertise and understanding not only how to conduct the investigation, but also how to apply the laws, the laws that apply to corruption cases.
SHERWOODYou've been the U.S. attorney for five years, and I read the Ruben Castaneda's profile of you back in October, and they said you're from Wharton School of Economics, right? Is it Wharton School of Business or Economics?
ROSENSTEINI have an undergraduate degree from Wharton. That's correct.
SHERWOODAnd Harvard Law. And then in this memorable line in this profile, it said you are the Jimmy Stewart. And that's a kind of a dated thing for -- you have to be pretty old to know what they mean by that.
NNAMDIWho Jimmy Stewart was. Yes.
SHERWOODBut clean cut, honest, fair, well-organized, do you accept that characterization?
NNAMDIAnd will you be running for president any time soon?
SHERWOODAnd it says in this article that you do not ever want, well, I guess, ever is not the right word. But you do not wanna run for public office?
ROSENSTEINI don't aspire the public office. I've been in government for 20 years, and I think the characteristics that the article reflects are really not a function of me but of the office, of the staff of the Department of Justice.
SHERWOODBut do you set the tone for something like that?
ROSENSTEINThat's my job, you know? A product of the Department of Justice and I make every effort to try to live up to the standards that I've been taught and the Department of Justice is made up of career government servants, who are not politicians. And I think that's really significant because I think a lot of folks are cynical about government, and they assume that Justice Department lawyers are sitting around trying to figure out what the political angle is of the cases that they bring.
ROSENSTEINAnd the reality is that's not what happens at all. Politics is checked at the door among our prosecutors, and we're really committed to the proposition that government is something different than politics.
NNAMDISpeaking of your prosecutors, how many are they? Because I don’t know if people have a sense of the scope of your office. You are the top federal prosecutor in Maryland. You've got about, what, 80 assistant U.S. attorneys working for you? What you responsible for? Who else works for you?
ROSENSTEINThat's correct. We have about 80 lawyers working for us and about an equal number of non-attorney employees. But the majority of the work of federal law enforcement is actually done by these law enforcement agencies, by FBI, DEA, ATF, ICE, the martial service and the many, many other federal agencies that have the agents, who actually go out and conduct the interviews and gather the evidence and work with our prosecutors, so and that's a multiplier for us.
ROSENSTEINAnd the other significant thing that we do is we work with state and local enforcement. Many people think of federal law enforcement as being apart from state and local law enforcement. But in Maryland, we make up special effort to coordinate with state and local law enforcement, particularly on our violent crime and narcotics cases.
ROSENSTEINAnd you see that impact in the reduction and the murder rate in Maryland, which has really been a product of this coordinated effort of federal state and local law enforcement.
SHERWOODWell, Prince George's County, is it the most troubled county in Maryland when it comes to violent crime, or is the city of Baltimore, or...
ROSENSTEINThe city of Baltimore. Baltimore set a record low number of homicides. Last year, it was just under 200. Prince George's is just under 100, so the rate and the number are both significantly lower in Prince George's.
SHERWOODI wanna go back one more time for this profile because it had an interesting line, which did not explain itself in it, and it said that there was something about you chipping the Berlin Wall. What was that? And were you a student or in the service or something? You were at the -- when you were there when the Berlin Wall went down, or were you illegally chipping the Berlin?
ROSENSTEINI know you recognize, Tom. I didn't write the article, but...
SHERWOODNo. I know.
ROSENSTEIN...whether that was referring -- I have a photograph in my office of me at the Berlin Wall. I visited in 1990, after the wall was mostly down. There were still portions up, and you could run a hammer and chisel and chip out a piece yourself. So, as far I know, it was perfectly legal.
NNAMDITom won't be visiting you in a court anytime soon.
SHERWOODWell, it just kinda popped out near the end of the story, and I just didn't know what that -- I mean, you know, I wanted to know about it. Now I know.
NNAMDIOn a point of legal information, here is John in Silver Spring, Md. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNHi, Kojo. Good afternoon. Good afternoon, sir. I was inspecting Thomas' plea. Wouldn't you say that Mr. Tomas is getting a pat on the back? I mean, he stole $350,000, and he's probably gonna get only four years in prison.
NNAMDIAnd you say -- it's my understanding that you are concerned that he was charged with only one felony count?
JOHNYes. He had only one felony count. I mean, he could be charge...
NNAMDIThere were two felony counts, and here's Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODWell, Mr. Rosenstein may wanna comment on this since the case has been -- there has been a plea in it. But Mr. Thomas is -- did plea to two felony counts. The sentencing is up to four years. 37 to 40 -- 36 to 30 -- 47 months is within the plea guidelines, sentencing guidelines. He will -- he's subject to, I think, $100,000 in fines. He's subject to a restitution. I think even if he gets his -- someone was telling me his council -- five-year council pension is like $25,000 a year, but that can be attached to help pay.
SHERWOODHis career is ruined. His personal -- his reputation is ruined. I think -- and he will serve most of that time in prison, whatever he gets, because there is no parole. So Mr. Rosenstein...
NNAMDIDoes that -- all of that -- is all of that going into consideration when you're thinking about a plea deal involving a person who's a prominent public official?
SHERWOODA public official.
ROSENSTEINAbsolutely, Kojo. I endorse everything that Tom said. That's absolutely right. And those are the factors the judge has taken into consideration. Jack Johnson, for example, got over seven years. That was a relatively long sentence for a public official who pleads guilty to corruption. And I think that from the perspective of these defendants, this white-collar corruption defendants who've led otherwise law-abiding lives, are gonna find themselves in federal prison for three, four, five, six, seven years. From their prospective, I think, that's probably a relatively stiff sentence. Whether it's enough to deter others, that remains to be seen.
NNAMDIAnd it's my understanding that you reorganized the fraud and corruption unit at your office after you got there. What did you think needed to be fixed, to be done differently?
ROSENSTEINWhen I came onboard, Kojo, in 2005, my office was not divided into different subject-matter sections. And as part of my effort to focus on a variety of different priorities in Maryland, the first thing we did was to make particular people responsible for particular areas. So we designated a group of lawyers. We now have 10 in Baltimore who focus on fraud and corruption cases. Another dozen or so who focus on violent crime and 10 or 12 who focus on narcotics.
ROSENSTEINAnd we have a major crimes group that focuses on other priorities in the Justice Department, child exploitation, civil rights, identity fraud. We have a national security unit, an asset forfeiture unit. And then, of course, we have a civil division, which handles both affirmative and defensive civil litigation for the United States. When you have a group of 80 lawyers, you have the ability to have multiple priorities. And by organizing the office in that way, we're able to achieve all those priorities.
SHERWOODOK. Do you still prosecute cases yourself? Do you appear in court? Do you just keep everything well-oiled? Do you actually do cases, or do you have time to do that?
ROSENSTEINI do. I do do cases. I try to handle at least one each year by myself. This year, the case that I prosecuted was a case involving a home invasion defendant by the name of Jason Thomas Scott, who was just sentenced earlier this week to 100 years in federal prison. This was a violent crime case that arouse...
SHERWOODThat's what some people think Harry Thomas should get.
ROSENSTEINWhile that may be, I know that Jason Scott deserved it. This is a defendant who was really a typical violent criminal who, just like the corruption defendants, started small, with small break-ins at homes and graduated over time to home invasions, and then, ultimately, to sexual assaults as well. And I think it illustrates what can happen if law enforcement isn't successful at an early stage in intervening and incapacitating a defendant and making sure they serve some significant time early in his career to prevent him from developing into a major problem in the community like Mr. Scott.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones. Here is Allan (ph) in Annapolis, Md. Allan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALLANOh, good. Thank you very much, sir. To the U.S. Attorney General's Office, simple question. If one has a clear case from -- by a lower court, a civil case, of violation of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment, should one, in an attempt to take this to a higher level, address the question to the attorney general for the state or the attorney general for the federal government?
NNAMDIOr for the U.S. attorney for the federal government?
ROSENSTEINWell, if it's a private civil action, you really need to bring that to your own personal attorney as opposed to the government. I don't know the details of your case. But generally speaking, the Justice Department doesn't intervene in private lawsuits. In rare cases where there are civil rights or constitutional issues, that might happen. But generally speaking, private lawsuits are not handled by the federal government.
NNAMDIAllan, thank you very for your call. Your office is involved in a lot of matters related to national security and terrorism. Just this week, authorities arrested a man at BWI Airport who has been accused of attempting to travel to Somalia with the intent of joining the group al-Shabab. What are the fundamentals of that case?
ROSENSTEINIn that case, the defendant, Craig Baxam, is alleged to have left Maryland after leaving the Army and travelled to Kenya with the intention of going to Somalia and join this terrorist organization known al-Shabab. Now, of course, he's still presumed innocent. The case was just filed. But it's an unusual case in the sense that the allegations in the compliant are that Mr. Baxam did research on the Internet, became interested in al-Shabab and decided to cash-in his retirement fund and buy a ticket to Africa.
ROSENSTEINSo it's a very unusual case, but it really does illustrate the way our national security operation generally operates, and that is that our goal is to intervene before any kind of harm happens. And so when you a case like that, the tendency might be to say, well, nothing bad happened. He didn't make it there. He didn't actually join the organization. He didn't kill anybody. Our goal is to intervene before the crimes occur.
ROSENSTEINAnd that really, Kojo, reflects the change in the Justice Department strategy after Sept. 11 of 2001, to be proactive in investigating national security as opposed to the traditional model where you respond to a violent crime. Our goal is to intervene and prevent bad things from happening.
NNAMDIWhat would such an individual be tried for attempting to, thinking of, joining a terrorist group?
ROSENSTEINThat's exactly right. The allegation is attempting to support a foreign terrorist organization. And so again, attempting is a crime. You don't have to succeed. We're not gonna wait until you succeed. And we've had other similar cases, Kojo. We have a case also pending in our district involving a fellow name Antonio Martinez, who's alleged to have attempted to bomb an Armed Forces recruiting center in Baltimore. Once again, the result of an investigation by the FBI that intervened before anything bad happened.
SHERWOODBut how do you balance? I know these are very serious cases. International terrorism, a very serious issue since 9/11 particularly. But some people worry that, and I admit I'm one of them sometime or often, the individual rights and liberty of people to move about to -- I remember in the wake of 9/11, someone was taking a picture of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the police stopped him, and I don't believe any charges were brought. But then -- and we were all excited about what he was taking pictures of the bridge for.
SHERWOODI said, well, you know, you can go on to Maryland Transportation Department. They have live streaming pictures of the bridge. I mean, in some extent, 'cause there are some concern by others on meeting others, individual liberty is also a victim in our effort to be diligent on terrorism.
ROSENSTEINI think, Tom, that concern doesn't only exist in the private sector. The government has that concern, and, you know, we're committed to the proposition that we can have security without sacrificing liberty. So there are certainly things that we have to do now that we didn't do 10 years ago, like taking off our shoes at the airport, which are annoying, which are frustrating but which ultimately make us more safe.
ROSENSTEINAnd the government is constantly engaged in that kind of calculation. That is, you know, if we take additional steps and try to provide more security, are we going to be compromising liberty? And, you know, that's an ongoing debate that I think the Justice Department is going to continue to engage in for many years to come.
NNAMDIRod Rosenstein is the United States attorney for the District of Maryland. He got away with chipping of a piece of the Berlin Wall. Rod Rosenstein, thank you so much for joining us.
ROSENSTEINYou're very welcome. Good to be here.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He is an NBC reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood, Mayor Vincent Gray wants to clear out Occupy D.C. from McPherson Square. He says we can bring them over to the Freedom Plaza location.
SHERWOODWell, just kind of coming out of the conversation we just ended up on. You know, you can't tell the demonstrators, well, we would like it if you move over here. I mean, there are issues. I mean, there is Supreme Court issues and rights. And, you know, I'm a protester, and I want to protest it from the White House. Someone can't really tell me, oh, you need to go over in front of the Treasury Department. And so -- but, you know, the mayor has had kind of a bubbling along here.
SHERWOODThe business community downtown has been worried that the McPherson Square, which has been going on for months now, is unsanitary and potentially unsafe. The mayor cites rats and other kinds of things. I just don't know if that's park service -- federal park service lands. I don't know what will happen, if anything, but this is the starting of the crumbling of the city officials who have been supportive of this protest are now starting to show a little crack in their resolve to allow them to stay.
NNAMDIAnd the Occupy protesters are saying, yes, there are field mice and rats every place around. We didn't bring the rats here. But it cause me to remember a noted late D.C. politician and activist who once threatened to, like the Pied Piper, lead rats into Georgetown so that the rest of the city could get more attention.
SHERWOODI'm having a block on his name. Tell me his...
SHERWOODJulius Hobson. Yes, he put together the rat mobile. He said, look, you don't -- you take care of the rats in Georgetown, but you don't take care of the rats and show another neighborhood. So he put together this jalopy, and he put a big wooden crate on top. He say he was gonna go around and collect all the rats in the city, and then release them in Georgetown. So that was pretty good.
SHERWOODBut, you know, there are rats at Freedom Plaza 'cause -- without protestors there. Rats are a problem everywhere, and if we close down every place where there are rats and unsanitary condition, there'll be buildings that will have to close.
NNAMDIWe mentioned earlier in the broadcast that our guest analyst would be Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post. We've been keeping him in a holding cell for the first part of the show, the holding cell known as Metro.
MR. MIKE DEBONISMetrorail.
NNAMDIExactly right. You're just getting out.
DEBONISLet this be a lesson to us all, Kojo and Tom. Check those service bulletins before you ride.
SHERWOODThere was a red line. There was single tracking on the red line. I heard it on TOP this morning.
DEBONISWell, I wasn't listening to WTOP. I was listening to WAMU, so I know now how to...
DEBONIS...not to call anybody out in particular, but...
NNAMDIThat's the last time you'll hear -- Andrew, could shut off his mic for the rest of the broadcast, please? But in today's Post, Metro's board's finance committee wants to consider more options than those proposed by Gen. Manager Richard Sarles. They've got to close a $116 million short fall, and he proposed higher fares for people who use paper fare cards -- yours truly -- cutting day passes and doing -- and eliminating the complicated surcharge for traveling during the system's busiest times.
NNAMDIAnd one Tom Sherwood complained that Mayor Vince Gray, Martin O'Malley and Bob McDonnell are meeting with Sarles to talk about Metro today, but the press availability is not until 4 p.m. on a Friday. Why do you object?
SHERWOODWell, they're having a nice Friday afternoon chat. Well, I'm sure they'll have hot coffee and some little bites to eat or something. But then, they said they'll come out after four o'clock to tell us what they talked about when Metro is, you know, people think is a flame and needs it. And -- but they're gonna come out at 4, which is very late for television programming. You know, some of the dinosaur media can still cover it, but...
DEBONISThat is a...
NNAMDILike great bloggers on Twitters like Mike DeBonis.
DEBONISThat is a print-oriented press conference. The best kind.
NNAMDIAnd it will occur after four o'clock this afternoon though.
SHERWOODBut, you know, the big deal there is that McDonnell wants more power on the Metro board, and I think there is some...
DEBONISWell, he's got it now. Yeah.
SHERWOODHe's got, you know, some state representatives 'cause he said we're putting up the money. We want more of a say so.
DEBONISYeah, the local Northern Virginia people, basically, lost a little say and Bob McDonnell gained a little say. Actually, I think, I believe it's this week that the new member will see it.
NNAMDIMike DeBonis, our guest analyst, tweeting now @unsuckdcmetro.
DEBONISWell, I just wanna put it out there. I love Metro, and I will -- this was my fault because I'm sure Metro did a fantastic job informing everybody that they were picking a weekday afternoon when people are trying to get to important places to do their track work. And I -- it was my fault for not...
SHERWOODYou should have left earlier.
NNAMDIJoining us now in studio is the individual who first brought up the details of the case that ultimately led to the demise of Harry Thomas Jr. Tim Day is a Republican candidate, was for the D.C. Council. Are you -- have you announced again?
MR. TIM DAYI have not. I'm still weighing my options.
NNAMDIHe has not announced yet whether he will be running for the now-available seat in Ward 5. He ran for that seat in the year 2010. Tim Day, thank you so much for joining us.
DAYThanks for having us.
NNAMDIDuring the heat of your campaign against Harry Thomas Jr. in 2010, we know how voters in Ward 5 initially responded to the claims that you made. Harry Thomas Jr. was reelected overwhelmingly. But when you made those original accusations, how were you treated by people in communities within the ward? I'm trying to get a look into the life of Tim Day.
DAYYou know, it was perceived as a political stunt, which it was not. You know, it was very valid reasons, and I believe the U.S. attorney general stated that, you know, his case was handed to him on a silver platter, you know, and I think that we did a phenomenal job outlining, you know, where the funds came from, what he did with them, you know, in a 27-page point -- PowerPoint presentation with hard documentation from IRS, from solicitation letters...
NNAMDINever have an accountant running against you. That would be the lesson there.
DAYExactly. And, you know, so I think it was, you know, I can't believe we're doing this to Thomas, and I think Tom does a phenomenal job continuing to push where is the outrage. There was really no outrage versus, you know, you're a horrible person, and I continue to get that.
NNAMDIPeople continue to call you a horrible person?
DAYOh, yeah. I got greeted outside of my house by some Thomas supporters the other day. And I refuse to let them scare me away. You know, it's time that someone stands up and hold their elected officials accountable.
NNAMDIIf you would like to Tim Day that he's not a horrible person, you can call us at 800-433-8850. That's 800-433-8850. DeBonis is making a (word?)
DEBONISWhen you say greeted by.
DAYSo I arrived home from after having brunch, and there were seven individuals standing in my sidewalk, to the steps over my front house that was not happy. They were not happy with me at all.
SHERWOODThis was after Thomas pled guilty in court?
DEBONISOn your own property.
DAYYes, on my own property.
DEBONISAnd how did that resolve itself?
DAYI threatened to call the police. Thank goodness I had my cellphone in the hand. I tried to reasonably talk to them that this was not a personal thing. You know, it's -- we have to hold our elected officials accountable, and we have to -- not just for not stealing money but when they make promises to their constituents that they follow through with it.
DEBONISRight. Well, I just wanna rewind just, you know, a little more than a year ago when you first brought this to light. And what this was evolved over time? I mean, I think we should make clear. When you first came forward, you were talking about his nonprofit Team Thomas and raising really good questions about how were those funds being raised. Is Team Thomas a legitimate organization? What is it being spent on?
DEBONISAnd that got the ball rolling, you know, the attorney general deciding, you know, you raised some good points, and I wanna look at this. But it was only after the attorney general kind of opened that curtain that we went in and saw -- this wasn't just fundraising. This just wasn't the appearance of pay to play or the fact that he's sort of just collecting money from donors. It's that he's actually has his hand in the city, too. And...
SHERWOODAnd then -- and you said -- you didn't say it, but I think I should. You know, The Washington Post editorial page also jumped into...
DEBONISAnd The Washington Post news section also covered Mr. Day's -- put it in the Metro section the day he announces...
SHERWOODIt took a while for it to get up some steam, but then we got to where we are now.
DEBONISRight. It's a tough thing for things like this because, you know, sometimes, when there's smoke and smoke is smoke and the fire isn't immediately apparent. But newspapers, unfortunately, don't have subpoena power. What we do have is the ability to force the people who do have subpoena power to care. And I think in this case, that happened.
DEBONISFormer Attorney General Peter Nickles pursued it mightily in his final months in office, and he made a point of making sure that he left it in a state where the new mayor had no choice but to move it forward. And I think to the new mayor's credit and the attorney general's credit, he did.
DAYRight. You know, I think also, you know, not only did I bring it to the attention of the media but, you know, I brought it to the attention of the Internal Revenue Service and Peter Nickles. You know, I personally delivered information so that they could actually see the validity and put the whole picture together.
NNAMDIAt what point did you realize that there was something fishy going on with Thomas' books? We're you doing routine, what they call, oppositional research? Or did you just have a feeling that there was some corruption here and you were, in fact, looking for it?
DAYYou know, Thomas' actions and the way he treated the residents of Ward 5 is really what pushed me towards running in a special election for ANC and running for Ward 5 council. And -- 'cause I just never saw a return on anything, and he often put out misleading information. And it was in his own quarterly publication that, after a long day of campaigning, that I said this just doesn't make sense 'cause it talked about three separate entities doing three different things, and it had photos.
DAYAnd I tore the publication apart, and I'm like wow, this is interesting. You know, one happened in November. One happened in August. One happened in June. He had the same shorts and baseball hat on in each photo, and the kids all had the same thing. And I'm like, oh, this doesn't make sense. And I'm like, how is it -- I've been in the city for so long, and I've never heard of this. And it was a simple Google.
DAYI mean, I literally Googled. So I'm like, wow, the trust gave this organization a ton of money, and how come I don't know about this? And I then was like, OK, let's see if they're a real nonprofit. And that's when the...
SHERWOODWhat about the Langston 21st Century people? And I keep -- Nash -- what's his last name? I always forget this.
NNAMDIHis last name's Marshall. Marshall Banks.
SHERWOODFor some reason, like Banks (unintelligible) money. All right. What do you know about him? He pled guilty today to passing checks along, and it sounded like he was somebody who just got caught up in what Thomas was doing. Do you know anything about him at all?
DAYYou know, I actually don't. I feel bad that I should have done some research. But actually, just before walking in here, one of the young ladies let me use their computer, and I did a little research 'cause IRS is a great resource. And I do know that the Langston 21 Foundation is only at a 50 percent deductibility status, which sends a sign that, you know, they have had some compliance issues with IRS, that everything that you give to them is not 100 percent tax deductible, you know, and you can find that at irs.gov.
SHERWOODBut you don't know him personally.
DAYI don't, I don't.
SHERWOODOkay. All right. That's what I mean. 'Cause I think there's gonna be a few more people who are gonna plead guilty apparently in this kind of helping Thomas or being intimidated by Thomas in doing something illegal or closing their eyes to some obvious thing and helping him. But...
DAYRight. Well, I can -- I don’t know if I can break some news that haven't reported otherwise, but the plea deal entered by Banks also includes is contingent on another plea from his associate in Langston 21, Jimmy Garvin...
SHERWOODAnd that was set in open court.
DAYYeah. That's expected later this -- I believe either...
DAY...next week, yeah. Next week.
SHERWOODLater this week. This is Friday.
DAYThis is Friday. We have Saturday, Tom. You know, maybe the federal government is gonna decide they wanna work on Saturday...
SHERWOODThey don't and I don't.
NNAMDIThe number to call is 800-433-8850. Our guest is Tim Day. He was the Republican candidate for Ward 5 on the D.C. Council in 2010, who was the one who started pointing fingers at then Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. We now know the results of all of that. To what degree do you feel any vindication by what's happened during the course of the past six months or so?
DAYNone. And I don't think -- I didn't do this to be vindicated. I think that it -- this is just another step in our ethical cancer with our administration. We need to move forward with really getting our house in order, and we need to find a representative that's truly gonna look out for the people of Ward 5 and all of D.C. And that goes for other council members also.
DAYYou know, I continue my quest to dig in to the trust and been working with, you know, everyone I can 'cause there's a lot of bogus -- I don't know any other word to use -- pass-throughs to the trust. And I think that this is truly a much larger situation than just Thomas.
NNAMDIWell, as you're looking at all of this and thinking about your role in it and thinking about whether or not you are going to run for the now-vacant seat, have you considered switching for your party affiliation from Republican to Democratic because, you know, the prevailing wisdom is that you won't get elected as a Republican in Ward 5, and now you can be portrayed as a hero of the story if you also happen to be a Democrat. A political commentator, who shall remain nameless, suggested that if you switched affiliations that you might have a better chance of winning.
DAYYou know, I think at this point in time in Ward 5, I will always be seen as that Republican guy. You know, I was branded early on into my campaign and, you know, thanks to Tom, NBC.
SHERWOODWhat did I do?
NNAMDILook at David Catania...
DAYWell, it's good. It's good. It's okay.
NNAMDI...Michael Brown. They changed.
DAYBut, you know, so I think that -- I think the -- for me, the greater thing is is that, you know, should people really -- how much do they weigh in on? It's like, oh, it's Tim Day that did this phenomenal thing, and he's a Republican. You know, if I switch to become a Democrat, I'm still the same guy, with the same beliefs and the same...
SHERWOODYeah, but you don't carry the bags...
NNAMDIWith a lot more registered voters in that ward.
SHERWOODWhy not be an independent? I don't -- I mean, do you have -- what is your allegiance to the Republican Party? Do you like its economic policies? You like its social conservative policies? I mean, what is it -- why are you a Republican?
DAYYou know, I'm a Republican for national reasons, and my allegiance is all about money and finance.
SHERWOODWho's your candidate for president?
NNAMDII knew you'd ask that.
NNAMDIOnce he said national reasons...
DAYLet's keep this local.
SHERWOODNo. But I'm -- here's...
DEBONISTim, you're the guy sitting here in the elephant Republican pin. So, you know, I didn't ask you to show up in that.
SHERWOODYeah. Well, but is it -- for this city, which has been terribly mistreated by every president and every political party since Lyndon Johnson -- Michael Wise wrote about Obama, you know, ignoring the city. I mean, for this city to be mistreated in many ways, and for many people in this city, which is Democratic, who see how the Republican Party has not supported the city's voting rights and other matters, they don't want to assign -- align themselves with a Republican.
SHERWOODAnd I know that the executive director of the Republican Party is seeing that in the lobbying he'll hit me. But it's a huge hurdle. Carol Schwartz was an extraordinary, and Jerry Moore, the reverend, I mean, beyond that, Republicans have not done well in this city. So it sounds like you burden yourself, but maybe you're gonna break new ground.
DAYIt's -- you know, I literally -- I have a list going...
SHERWOODIf you didn't run, would you be willing to serve -- for example, would you be willing, because of your work in the -- would you be willing to serve on the -- on this new ethics review board?
DAYAbsolutely. I would love an opportunity to do that.
DEBONISOn top -- and, you know, keep in mind, we can, you know, say what a great idea it is for Tim to become an independent. But when you're an independent in this town, you're making a great sacrifice, which is you don't get to vote in elections that matter, which are the primary elections.
SHERWOODThat's why you said, I'm listed in the Democratic Party so I can vote more elections even though I'm not a Democrat.
DAYYeah, that's true.
NNAMDIHere is Chris in Silver Spring, Md. Chris, your turn.
CHRISHey, Kojo. Thank you. Mr. Day, I want to tell you, you did a fantastic thing. You were right on what you did. The people in Ward 5 need to understand if you hadn't spoken up or someone else had not spoken up, Harry Thomas would have kept this whole scam going for years. And instead of $350,000, it could have been 3.5 million or more. I live in Maryland. I used to live in D.C. when Barry was in office.
CHRISAnd if you choose to run, I would like to either support you with money or even volunteer because I've been robbed -- well, not physically robbed, but caught up in a scam, and it doesn't feel good.
CHRISAnd if people in Ward 5 would take a moment and say, look, this money went to his pockets. It didn't go to help anyone, not the kids, not the elderly. It went in his pockets. So I commend you for what you did. I'm sorry that those individuals were standing on your yard the other night. You know, that can be a scary thing as well. But, please, do run. And...
CHRIS...I think the intelligent people -- and there are many intelligent people in D.C. and Ward 5...
NNAMDIWell, would you move back into the District to vote for Tim Day, Chris?
CHRISNo, because the school system. I'm a single dad with a daughter, and the school system -- I don't have the money to put my daughter in private school, and that was the reason that I moved out of D.C.
CHRISI lived at 14th and Hamilton Street.
NNAMDIThe school's chancellor lives in Ward 5, Kaya Henderson. That's...
NNAMDIMakes no difference to Chris. Chris, thank you very much for your call.
DEBONISI have a correction for Chris.
DEBONISYou know, you said that the money that Harry Thomas -- benefitted nobody but himself. But I have it on pretty good authority that a Hooters restaurant and an Audi dealership did pretty well in that, actually.
NNAMDIThe federal investigation into the Thomas affair is still going on, but the president of a nonprofit linked to Thomas -- we talked about that -- was hit with felony charge. In an unrelated case, a former neighborhood commissioner was charged with fraud earlier this week in Ward 5. What concerns do you have about whether the ward has some kind of systemic problem?
DAYI think it validates that it's a systemic problem. This -- it truly is an ethical cancer that's spreading. You know, I don't know how else to say that. You know, there are so many clouds of doubt and question, and some major changes need to happen, and we need to keep our city moving forward and deal with them right away and not postpone them.
DEBONISI mean, I -- to me, what both of these sort of things illustrated is that there's a culture -- and I'm not gonna call it a culture of corruption, but it's a culture of tolerance, where, you know, something like this happens. And the people who surround this -- people are not of bad motive or not bad people, but they don't want to speak up, and they wanna -- their instinct is to protect rather than -- protect themselves and their friendships and their relationships.
NNAMDII know of no one who covered ANC meetings more, especially ANC meetings in Ward 6, than a certain Mike DeBonis when he was the Loose Lips columnist. What can you tell us about the...
DEBONISI've been to a few ANC meetings in the past.
NNAMDI...the ANC culture, if you will? Because one gets the impression that there's not a great deal of scrutiny.
DEBONISWell, everyone is different. I mean, different ANCs have different cultures, and I didn't report on ANC 5B. But I know that the Brookland Heartbeat, which is a great local newspaper, and the Washington Times also did stories on this particular ANC. And people who knew Shelton and -- or his sort of, you know, compadres on that ANC basically covered for him. They said, you know, this is no big deal.
DEBONISYou know, leave William alone. You know, he's resigned. He's -- don't worry about him. And nobody wants to take the step to, you know, to protect the public trust. And then you saw it on a different level with Harry Thomas and the D.C. Council, okay? So I'm gonna go ahead and call some people out here. So Irv Nathan, in his -- in June, set out in open court. And he's an officer of the court.
DEBONISHe's, you know, bound to put truthful -- to file truthful things with the court, filed a lawsuit that laid out 90 percent of what was in the federal indictment. And it showed overwhelming evidence that a crime had been committed. Harry Thomas, for the ensuing six months, offered no scintilla of evidence otherwise to say, well, actually, that's wrong, and this is what I did. He kept his mouth shut. He settled the case. He paid $300,000 -- agreed to pay...
SHERWOODWell, agreed to pay.
DEBONIS…$300,000 to the city. You know, and he touted, oh, there's no admission of wrongdoing. But, you know, there are lawyers on that council who know very well what a civil settlement entails and knows that that's sort of boilerplate and still didn't say a thing about it.
SHERWOODWell, and many people retreated to -- and I'm gonna use that purposefully -- retreated to, well, let the process play out.
DEBONISRight. And now you had -- so on Friday, you had -- and they take it to the nth degree. On Friday, you had Marion Barry, sitting in front of his colleagues, said, well, he's not sentenced yet, so we shouldn't pass judgment. Well...
SHERWOODRight. And then you -- and there -- but that's what I got. As a reporter who has to try to remain above or side of the fray, not above but aside of the fray, once he plead guilty, I really thought then that there would be this wishy-washy, mushy mouth kind of reaction stuff would stop, and people would say, what Tommy Thomas did to the children of Ward 5 and the city is wrong, and then he should -- and all that.
SHERWOODBut, no, we got these mushy little formal statements of, well, sadness for the family and the city. We got to move on. No, let's don't move on until we clearly say, this was horrendous. I used the word...
SHERWOOD...vile in my column this week. What he did to the children of the city is vile. No matter how much you loved Tommy, how much you loved his mother Romaine or his father, this is vile behavior, and it should not be tolerated or counted, or you shouldn't have people stand out in front of Tim Day's house to criticize him for trying to save the money that was intended for the children.
NNAMDITim Day, your campaign platform just there. You just heard it.
SHERWOODThis is the platform of anybody who believes the rule of law.
SHERWOODNow that the process is over, let's stop hiding behind it.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. He only gets up on the soapbox every now and then. Mike DeBonis is a reporter for The Washington Post. Thank you for joining us, Mike.
DEBONISThanks. If you have me back, I will take a cab next time.
NNAMDITim Day was a Republican candidate for the D.C. Council. He hasn't yet made up his mind about whether he's gonna run again. Whatever you do, Tim Day, good luck to you.
DAYThank you very much.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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