Loose Lips

Gray Donor Files Ethics Complaint Against Ron Machen

U.S. Attorney Ron Machen has been investigating Vince Gray's 2010 campaign for three years, but one District lawyer thinks Machen should be the subject of an investigation of his own. In a letter to the D.C Bar's Board of Professional Responsibility today, attorney and Gray supporter Brian Lederer calls for the bar to consider sanctions against Machen.

Lederer says Machen violated a swath of federal and professional rules in the press conference that followed Jeff Thompson's guilty plea. Instead of just talking about Thompson, Lederer says, Machen ran afoul of the rules by talking about "Candidate A," the pseudonymous 2010 mayoral candidate who has been named in court as Gray.

“He went out of his way to put the mayor's guilt in play, in political play, three weeks before the election," Lederer says. "And it’s affected the election."

U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Bill Miller, who says he hadn't read Lederer's complaint, wouldn't comment.

(Update, 9:00 a.m.: Miller sent LL a statement focusing on Machen's use of the "Candidate A" alias during the press conference. "Consistent with Justice Department policy, the U.S. Attorney did not name or comment on the guilt of any uncharged individual during that press conference," Miller writes. Read his full statement at the bottom of this post.)

Lederer also filed an Office of Campaign Finance complaint against an Adrian Fenty write-in campaign aimed at Gray in 2010.

Lederer, a former People's Counsel and chairman of the Ward 3 Democrats, has donated $700 to Gray's re-election effort. While he says he told Gray about his plans to file the complaint, Lederer says he didn't get the idea to file the complaint from Gray's campaign. Inspiration came instead, according to Lederer, from two Washington Post op-ed articles this weekend that were critical of Machen.

“When I read those articles, it was like, 'Well, I’ve got to do something, at least take a professional stand,'" Lederer says.

U.S. Attorney's Office statement:

The timing of this criminal investigation has been dictated by the state of the evidence, not by the news cycle or the election calendar. Jeffrey Thompson was finally ready to enter a guilty plea and acknowledge his crimes when he signed a plea agreement on March 7. Three days later, Mr. Thompson appeared in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to plead guilty to secretly channeling more than $3.3 million in illegal contributions to at least 28 political candidates and their campaigns. Mr. Thompson’s guilty plea was scheduled for next available court date rather than concealed from the public until after the election.
Following Mr. Thompson’s guilty plea – as is the usual practice in cases of such intense public interest – U.S. Attorney Machen and other law enforcement officials held a press conference to explain developments to the media and the public. The subject of this press conference was Mr. Thompson and his guilty plea. The U.S. Attorney explained that Mr. Thompson had acknowledged illegal spending in connection with one U.S. presidential, two mayoral, and six D.C. Council elections. The U.S. Attorney limited his presentation about the facts of the case to information contained in the publicly filed Statement of Offense that Mr. Thompson acknowledged under penalty of perjury in open court. Consistent with Justice Department policy, the U.S. Attorney did not name or comment on the guilt of any uncharged individual during that press conference.


Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • drez


  • Caudalie

    It looks like arrogance is catching up with the US Attorney.

  • truth hurts

    Too rich. Gray, about to be indicted for massive campaign finance fraud, using a surrogate to complain about ethics.

  • Jes’ sayin

    Read Lederer's complaint. Read the law. Read the Rules of Professional Conduct. Read the DOJ standards regarding prosecutors and actions that could influence elections.

    No matter what you think of the investigation or the Mayor, it is hard to disagree with the premise that Machen has gone far beyond the boundaries set by the Justice Department for U-S Attorneys and beyond the DC Bar's Rules of Professional Conduct.

    We still charge people through the legal system and try them in court. Not through press conferences.

  • S.E.

    Here again.........either $h#t or get off the pot.

  • drez

    Such desperation.

  • SayWhat

    One thing about Machen is that he always have his ducks in order. Count on it!

  • Smh

    Waste of time

  • Brians Ions

    "The U.S. Attorney limited his presentation about the facts of the case to information contained in the publicly filed Statement of Offense that Mr. Thompson acknowledged under penalty of perjury in open court. Consistent with Justice Department policy, the U.S. Attorney did not name or comment on the guilt of any uncharged individual during that press conference."
    Seems to me voters have a right to know this pretty minimal stuff.

    The court of public opinion of THEIR elected public officials rightfully demands a higher standard of performance from said officials.

    Mayor Crook's peeps might have a more credible case if he had done the honorable thing this election cycle and NOT stood for re-election.

  • Corky

    The US Attorney did appear breach the rules of professional conduct by wading into the election. Of course, nothing will happen to him because he is the US Attorney for DC. If a regular lawyer behaved this way, the Bar would sanction him, no questions asked.

  • Typical DC BS

    Maybe Holder will bother to discipline Machen? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  • DCShadyBoots

    Machen tramples on the mayor’s due process

    By Monroe H. Freedman and Abbe Smith, Published: March 21

    “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?” Those were the bitter words of former labor secretary Raymond J. Donovan after finally being found not guilty at trial two years after he was forced to step down from Ronald Reagan’s cabinet to face fraud and grand larceny charges that turned out to be false.

    When prosecutors charge a citizen with having engaged in criminal conduct, there are enormous costs. The accused is branded publicly as a possible felon before family, neighbors and business associates. That person also must obtain counsel, live under a cloud of shame for months or years until the case is resolved and, even if ultimately vindicated, endure thereafter the lingering belief in the minds of many that “where there’s smoke there’s fire.”

    Of course, prosecutors are responsible for bringing charges against people who break the law and for prosecuting them once they are charged. And when a person is charged with a crime, key procedural protections are automatically invoked, including the right to due process of law.

    What is frightening — and wrong as a matter of ethics and simple decency — is when prosecutors publicly accuse a person without having brought any charge. This is what U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr., the chief law enforcement officer for the District, did this month when, following businessman Jeffrey Thompson’s guilty plea to conspiracy to violate federal campaign finance laws, he held a news conference and excoriated Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D).

    The American Bar Association’s model ethical rules prohibit prosecutors from “making extrajudicial comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused . . . except for statements that are necessary to inform the public of the nature and extent of the prosecutor’s action and that serve a legitimate law enforcement purpose.” As a lawyer practicing in the District, Machen is subject to the D.C. Bar’s version of that rule, which includes this instructive comment:

    “In the context of a criminal prosecution, pretrial publicity can present the further problem of giving the public the incorrect impression that the accused is guilty before having been proven guilty through the due processes of the law. It is unavoidable, of course, that the publication of an indictment may itself have severe consequences for an accused. What is avoidable, however, is extrajudicial comment by a prosecutor that serves unnecessarily to heighten public condemnation of the accused without a legitimate law enforcement purpose before the criminal process has taken its course. When that occurs, even if the ultimate trial is not prejudiced, the accused may be subjected to unfair and unnecessary condemnation before the trial takes place. Accordingly, a prosecutor should use special care to avoid publicity, such as through televised press conferences, which would unnecessarily heighten condemnation of the accused.”

    We are troubled, therefore, by Machen’s lengthy statement at his March 10 news conference. Surrounded by members of his staff and of the FBI and Internal Revenue Service, Machen decried the “sad truth” of “widespread corruption,” that had been “suppressed for far too long.” He then detailed a series of allegedly illegal acts by someone he called “Mayoral Candidate A.” This person is obviously Gray.

    In addition to the rules of ethics, the ABA’s Standards for Criminal Justice state: “A prosecutor should not make . . . an extrajudicial statement that a reasonable person would expect to be disseminated by means of public communication, if the prosecutor knows or reasonably should know that it will have a substantial likelihood of prejudicing a criminal proceeding.” Predictably, Machen’s comments were broadcast on pretty much every news station in the District and the broader region. As the standard notes: “The opinion of the lawyer on the guilt of the defendant, the merits of the case, or the merits of the evidence in the case” is “ordinarily likely to have a substantial likelihood of prejudicing a criminal proceeding.”

    We take no position on the guilt or innocence of Gray — though even if he is indicted, he is presumed innocent. But if he is indicted, can he receive the due process of a trial by an impartial jury in the District? Ironically, Machen failed to respect the code of ethics that all lawyers must comply with. We expect more from the District’s chief prosecutor.

    The writers are law professors, respectively, at Hofstra University School of Law and the Georgetown University Law Center and are co-authors of the book “Understanding Lawyers’ Ethics.”

  • DoWhatYouDoBOO

    Someone on here is a hater of Gray...because Gray kicked his behind out of the new Convention Center...did you really expect to talk smack about our beloved Mayor and think that he was going to continue to pay your rent at the Covention Center? No boo boo Gray got you outta there like swimwear....

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