Loose Lips

District’s Shutdown Plan Is “Idiocy Of Immense Proportions,” Says Former U.S. Attorney

A little law-breaking can be contagious. Mayor Vince Gray risks violating the Anti-Deficiency Act if he keeps the entire city government running during a shutdown without the feds' approval, but he's not alone. D.C. Council chairman Phil Mendelson is set to introduce his own bill Tuesday to keep the city running. Councilmember David Grosso, meanwhile, says the District should build on the shutdown fight and start ignoring the portion of the Home Rule Charter that requires 30 days of congressional review for D.C. legislation.

The mayor and Council aren't afraid of breaking the Anti-Deficiency Act because it's toothless. No one has been prosecuted for it since it became law in 1884. "I can't imagine how Eric Holder would come in and arrest anyone of us for doing this," Grosso said yesterday.

Former D.C. U.S. Attorney Joe DiGenova, though, thinks otherwise. DiGenova tells LL that the act hasn't been tested only because no one has been "dumb enough" to break it. While they likely would avoid the criminal penalty of two years in jail, according to DiGenova, councilmembers, the mayor, and top city employees would be personally liable for fines.

"It's not the city's liability," says DiGenova. "It's the person who authorizes the spending. That would be [Chief Financial Officer] Natwar Gandhi, that would be anyone on the city council."

Of course, DiGenova isn't Holder—or current U.S. Attorney Ron Machen. DiGenova, a Ronald Reagan appointee whose pursuit of District officials culminated in Marion Barry's prison stay, has a taste for local prosecutions that a comparatively more District-friendly Democratic administration might lack.

Case in point: DiGenova doesn't buy the idea that standing up to a dysfunctional Congress would get publicity for the District's autonomy fight. "If the city thinks that by violating this law it hopes to make its case for self-rule, this is idiocy of immense proportions," says DiGenova.

DiGenova's been out of office for decades, and an even an overzealous Department of Justice might be loathe to prosecute in front of a District jury. Instead, the key to whether the District can run rests with another lawman: District Attorney General Irv Nathan. Gandhi's decision on whether to spend money during a shutdown depends on Nathan's approval, according to a spokeswoman for Gandhi.

It's not clear whether Gray's attempt to classify all city employees as "essential" will win Nathan over. Nathan's spokesman declined to comment, saying the attorney general's legal advice to the city is confidential. DiGenova, though, thinks he has an idea of where the attorney general is headed.

"Mr. Nathan is probably going to send a letter to everybody," he says. "Warning them in writing that they are probably about to undertake something that could be disastrous to them personally."

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • drez

    When the cost of prime New York strip hit $22/lb at Whole Foods, I stopped buying it.
    Heck, I don't even buy their $11/lb skirt steak anymore.
    There's just something about overly-costly red meat that's offputting.

  • Corky

    DiGenova needs to go F himself. If any District official is prosecuted for refusing to shut down the government because of some silliness by the GOP Tea Party nazis, no jury in this town will ever convict him or her. The DOJ might as well save itself the paper and money because it will not and CAN NOT win. It will be nullified by the jury. Look it up DiGenova.

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  • DC5

    Been down to Superior Court lately and seen a typical jury in the box or a jury pool standing around on the 3rd floor? This isn't 1990 anymore. I agree that 1) DiGenova is offbase (always has been), 2) that tea partiers are absurd, and 3) republican disrespect of the President is unprecedented in my lifetime. But the twenty-somethings populating Noma and gentrifying Shaw and H Street were raised watching CSI & Law and Order and are by and large not very skeptical as jurors.

  • truth hurts

    Who cares what DiGenova thinks? His time is past.

  • burzzzer1

    so, it's straightup illegal, and they want to do this still? what the f*ck. why bother? don't they think dc is worse off if the mayor and council get fined like a bunch of idiots? never mind, i'm sure they would just move taxpayer money around to pay themselve the cost of the fines they had to pay. bunch of selfcentered assh*les

  • drez

    Like the outrage over our tax office selling homes out from under the elderly and disabled.
    Fix the problem, then take credit.
    Don't grandstand over some BS you know isn't right.

  • S.E.

    Vincent Gray=Nat Turner

  • DCShadyBoots

    When personal freedom and assets come into play I don't think you will get much more action on this from the Mayor and Council. Certainly not from retiring CFO Natwar Ghandi.

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  • noodlez




  • Typical DC BS

    Ho Hum. The usual liberal drivel. Whine, complain, get panties in a bunch, threaten to not do their jobs, then fold like wet paper towels.

    Wash, rinse, repeat.

    What a bunch of pussies.

  • Barrie Daneker

    Oh please it's time we had an elected AG and Nathan went into the land of the abiss. Dc has so many lawyers that suck to begin with and Nathan is just one on the long list!