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D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown
D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown

2011 was a bad year for DC Council Chairman Kwame Brown. It looks like 2012 could be even worse.

Last week veteran reporter Bruce Johnson tweeted, "Word is a new grand jury looking at a local campaign has been seated. Subpoenas have been going out."

Six days later Alan Suderman of the City Paper confirmed what most who had read Johnson’s cryptic tweet understood: federal prosecutors and a grand jury are focused on Brown's 2008 campaign.

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the infamous "Fully Loaded" SUV fiasco that turned Kwame Brown into a household name. In the time since, Brown has yet to fulfill his promise to repay the city. But that is not where his painful year began or ended.

In 2011, days after he was sworn-in as Council Chair, Brown sought to handpick a successor to the At-Large seat he had vacated. He invested a lot of political capital in his choice, Sekou Biddle. In the end, though, Biddle finished third in the special election and Brown's standing was diminished.

Self-inflicted wounds have been a hallmark of Brown's first year as Chair. From the outset of his tenure he was adamant about not raising taxes. Six months later he supported a budget that included a tax hike.

Brown promised ethics reform. The legislation he co-introduced never saw a hearing, let alone a vote. Instead, it was pilloried.

Brown was involved in a highly publicized altercation with political analyst Mark Plotkin. The dust up occurred at the Fox TV studios, reportedly after Brown took umbrage with Plotkin's characterization of his legal woes.

In June of 2011, when then-Ward Five Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. agreed to repay the $300,000 he would later be convicted of stealing, three Council members called on Thomas to resign. Brown was silent. In fact, he never moved to officially censure or sanction Thomas.

After Thomas voluntarily stepped down from his chairmanship of the powerful Committee on Economic Development (a reward Brown had earlier bestowed on him despite an ongoing investigation by the D.C. Attorney General into Thomas's shady dealings), Brown added economic development to his own portfolio of power.

Brown went on to orchestrate a reshuffling of committee assignments and used the occasion to punish Ward Six Councilmember Tommy Wells for investigating the "Fully Loaded" scandal. Brown's petulance earned him ridicule on editorial pages and among good government advocates.

The inglorious year that 2011 was for Brown, however, might pale in comparison with what lies ahead in 2012.

Sources indicate that the grand jury looking into Brown's 2008 campaign is under the supervision of the Public Corruption Section of the U.S. Attorney's Office. Legal experts tell me Brown is in hot water.

The investigation by the Feds began after a D.C. Office of Campaign Finance audit found that Brown's 2008 campaign had failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions and expenditures. The audit also found an undisclosed bank account, other irregularities and violations of campaign finance regulations.

When the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney, then-board chair Togo West said, "We think there's criminal activity here."

It is also possible that the investigation has broadened and prosecutors are now looking into other aspects of Brown's dealings.

None of this bodes well for the Chairman.

Brown's attorney, by the way, is Fred Cooke.  If that name rings a bell it is because Cooke is Harry Thomas, Jr.'s attorney. Cooke has also represented Marion Barry on a number of occasions.

If the Thomas affair is anything of a guide, I expect we will be hearing a lot more from Cooke in the weeks ahead. Cooke is already making the case that Brown has not been called to testify to the grand jury. That may be true, but it is also pure spin. A grand jury does not need Brown's testimony to indict him. As well, prosecutors may not be seeking an indictment. Thomas was never indicted.  He took a deal, pleaded guilty to a felony and is now facing up to 46 months in prison.

Brown could find himself in similar shoes. 

Chuck Thies co-hosts the "D.C. Politics" show Thursday mornings at 11:00 am on WPFW 89.3 FM, streaming online at wpfw.org. You can follow him on Twitter @chuckthies

0 Comments For This Article

Anonymous

Yes!....freeloaders deserve what is coming

Anonymous

I would like to applaud you for reporting this story, but, at the same time, I would like to castigate you for the tone. The story seems to indicate guilt, merely awaiting the uncovering of evidence. I believe in this country, one is still presumed innocent until proven guilty, correct?

This is a case that should be tried in court, not in the court of public opinion, a venue well known for delivering lop-sided verdicts. It certainly shouldn't be based upon speculations on motive for committee reassignments, a reporters allusion to 'petulance', or unnamed "legal experts" measurement of water temperature.

Yes, we need to keep an eye on our representatives, and hold them to a higher standard than is, apparently, current; I am happy that this story has been researched and reported. But, we need to keep an eye on our media as well, and for similar reasons; the potential for abuse, from a position of trust, is higher, and more damaging than from others.

Responsible Reporting

Thank you to whoever wrote the comment on February 16th. You were right on the money with your assesments of the article. Chuck Thies continues to report in a irrersponsible manner. He continually misleads his readers with comments such as "legal experts" as you noted in your comment. He also will speculate without doing the research needed to support his conclusions. At times he has crossed the line so far that his comments border on slander or are just outright lies. I agree that our media needs to be held to the same higher standards as our representatives. Irresponsible behavior like Chuck's can be just as damaging to the public trust as what we have seen from Harry Thomas. Hopefully most of Chuck's followers are able to see through his manipulative statements and his obvious agendas.

Chuck I challenge you to start reporting and tweeting in a responsible, truthful and accurate manner free from your agendas. Hopefully your arrogance will no longer cloud your ability to reflect on the damage your statements can make.

Make us proud Chuck, you can do it.