Federal prosecutors have some explaining to do in the matter of Kwame Brown. The feds are preternaturally tight-lipped. But when U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen takes to the microphone Friday when Brown is scheduled to appear in court, I hope he illuminates the public about many matters left unexplained in the Brown case.
Did Brown make a deal to walk away from his political life, without a whimper, let alone a trial? Do we get details of the deal? Did he fall on his sword to protect his family members? Did he violate the public trust in ways we might not know?
The feds nailed the now-former council chair for bank fraud, and he has owned up to his misdeeds. "I have made some very serious errors in judgement for which I will take full responsibility," Brown said in his resignation letter.
"Bank fraud" has a nasty ring to it. In Kwame Brown's case, the feds caught him inflating his income and the value of his property when applying for home equity loans six years ago. The charging documents said Brown "devised a scheme and artifice to defraud Industrial Bank" in the process of getting a loan to buy a boat.
Is that a resigning offense?
So far, even with Thursday's charges that Brown violated D.C. campaign finance laws in 2008, I'm not seeing where he committed classic corruption, as in kickbacks or embezzlement. I know that's a low bar. I know we should hold our elected officials to a higher standard, and that Kwame Brown has violated the public trust. He certainly believed he wronged us and the city council. He said as much in his resignation letter.
Let's look at Brown's misdeeds in relative rather than absolute terms.
Harry Thomas Jr. stole funds from a public trust fund dedicated to teaching poor kids to play sports, and he used some of the money to buy a swanky car and a hot motorcycle. His violations of the public trust are glaring, and he will got to jail.
What about Marion Barry? After he served six months for the 1990 cocaine rap, he quit paying taxes. Prosecutors brought him to court twice to force him to pay up. Is he paying now? When he gave contracts to a girlfriend, the council censured him. Was that enough?
Kwame Brown's misdeeds seem to fall somewhere in the middle -- unless federal prosecutors can fill us in on more dastardly deeds. To wit:
-- What are the details of how Brown was involved in the "side account" mentioned in the documents charging him with campaign violations. Was his brother, Che, "Person 1"?
-- How did federal investigators discover the bank fraud? The count seems so far afield from the allegations of campaign irregularities that came from the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.
-- What else did the federal investigation unearth? When a federal prosecutor takes down a local elected official, voters should have a complete picture of the wrongdoing.
Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.