Two lobbying firms were heavily fined the other day for failure to meet disclosure requirements, just as a Washington man was sentenced to 15 years in prison for killing a man after the pair had smoked angel dust. And two brothers were sent to prison for a decade for robbing cab drivers. Such is the varied caseload of Ronald C. Machen Jr., the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.
Alone among the 94 U.S. Attorneys across the country, the federal prosecutor in Washington is both chief enforcer of the laws of the United States of America and local district attorney, in charge of prosecuting killers, rapists, robbers, purse-snatchers and, occasionally, local politicians suspected of wrongdoing. Nowadays, District Mayor Vincent Gray is under investigation.
Gray has not been charged, and Machen’s office does not acknowledge what everyone in Washington knows: that Gray’s 2010 campaign, in which Gray unseated incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty, has come under intense scrutiny. “We call it the ‘Candidate A’ investigation,” Machen spokesman Bill Miller told The Washingtonian magazine.
Three campaign aides for Gray have already pleaded guilty to shenanigans. The Gray campaign was helped by hundreds of thousands of dollars in “shadow” contributions, and Fenty’s re-election effort was bedeviled by attacks from another candidate who, it seems, was assured of a job in the Gray administration in return for his efforts.
If Gray is ever charged, or if he resigns under pressure, it will not shock long-time Washingtonians. They remember former Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr., who went to prison two decades ago after being caught smoking pot with a woman not his wife, then pulled a political Lazarus act by getting re-elected mayor after emerging from prison, and being elected a City Councilman after leaving City Hall.
“The people of this city deserve ethical, strong leadership,” Machen told The Washingtonian. “And when people violate the law wh0 are in positions of trust, there are going to be consequences.”
Aggressive? Yes. But fair too, Robert S. Bennett of Hogan Lovells said of Machen’s investigation of his client, Vincent (Candidate A) Gray.
Machen “has been totally responsible and professional” and “very fair,” Bennett told The Washingtonian. This is high praise from Bennett, a combative former federal prosecutor and frequent defender of high officials in trouble.
Machen, formerly a partner at WilmerHale, took a big pay cut, from$1 million or more a year to $155,500, when President Barack Obama nominated him to be the District’s chief prosecutor in 2009. Still, he calls his present post “a dream job.” Although it is not in his official portfolio, he has made reaching out to the poor part of his job.
“He’s appeared at basketball games and other events to build ties in neighborhoods such as Anacostia that rarely have a warm relationship with prosecutors,” as The Washingtonian somewhat delicately put it.
Machen, who was a wide receiver at Stanford, has had one big fumble. Or, perhaps, “strike-out” would be better, since we are talking about the nowhere prosecution of scowling fastball pitcher Roger Clemens, accused of lying to Congress about using performance-enhancing drugs. One mistrial, one acquittal, one big embarrassment for Machen’s office.
But Machen was a football player. You get knocked down, you get up again. You don’t panic when the game is in the fourth quarter. (As The Washingtonian observed, he’s been in office almost three years, and most of his predecessors haven’t stayed beyond four.)
When will the clock run out in the ‘Candidate A’ investigation? “We’re moving as fast as we possibly can,” Machen said.