Best Cooperating Witness

Jeanne Clarke Harris
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

For a time, there was no one better at getting dirt done in the District than Jeanne Clarke Harris. The 77-year-old Harris worked as the indispensable flunky for District shadow campaign money man Jeff Thompson’s illegal schemes to back candidates he thought would be favorable to his businesses.

Harris wasn’t Thompson’s only accessory. From straw donors who made Thompson political contributions in their own name to a street-team operative who used Thompson’s money to try to get Hillary Clinton nominated for president, the District’s federal courthouse has seen that it takes a village to dupe an electorate. But it’s hard to see how Thompson could have pulled of his schemes without the help of Harris, who used her two companies, Belle and Details, to funnel payments from Thompson and his companies to campaign workers. Harris’ company even allegedly masked payments for a driver and luxury SUV for Vince Gray’s 2010 bid.

Now that Harris is cooperating with the government, though, she’s just been just as clutch for U.S. Attorney Ron Machen. Harris’ plea in 2012 revealed that corruption in the Gray campaign went way beyond wacky fringe candidate Sulaimon Brown and introduced “shadow campaign” into the growing lexicon of District political corruption.

Despite pleading guilty nearly two years ago, though, Harris still hasn’t been sentenced, because she’s helping the government too much. While she hasn’t testified against anyone in court, the use of her full name in guilty pleas while other operatives are described only by letters in the alphabet suggests that she worked with the government on them. When disgraced former Councilmember Michael Brown admitted to receiving Thompson help in 2007, Harris was named as the conduit for the money. And when Brown went back to court to admit that he’d hidden shadow campaign help from investigators, there was Harris again.

Of course, no one’s been more hurt by Harris’ work with prosecutors than Thompson, who’s now seen each deal he worked out with Harris laid out in detail down to the decimal point. To his discomfort, Thompson is being reminded that Jeanne Harris always gets it done—if not necessarily legally.

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