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Machen Hints That D.C. Should Review Laws To Prevent Corruption

Machen said that D.C. Council member might have to look at the city's law to prevent future corruption.
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Machen said that D.C. Council member might have to look at the city's law to prevent future corruption.

Legislators may have to take a look at the city's laws to prevent further cases of influence-peddling and graft, said U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ron Machen said today on WAMU 88.5's The Kojo Nnamdi Show.

"We can’t ignore the fact that we’ve had three council members plead guilty in the last 18 months to federal felonies," he said. "And so I think we need to look and see... if the current system of laws and the administration of contracts and things like that are set up in such a way that they have supported or allowed this type of behavior to take place."

Over the last 18 months, Machen led investigations resulted in the downfall of three D.C. Council members, most recently Michael Brown, who this week pleaded guilty to taking $55,000 in bribes from undercover federal agents passing themselves off as businessmen seeking preferential access to city contracts.

Machen also oversaw the cases that brought down former Ward 5 Council member Harry Thomas, Jr. and former Council Chairman Kwame Brown, both of whom resigned after being charged with felonies.

In response to the scandals, the D.C. Council revamped the city's ethics laws, but various measures to reform campaign finance laws have not passed.

This week Machen's office also announced that Lee Calhoun, an associate of D.C. businessman Jeffrey Thompson, would plead guilty to making straw political donations. Thompson is at the center of a widening investigation into his years-long role in funding political campaigns; last year he was linked to $653,000 in illicit donations that helped Mayor Vincent Gray's 2010 mayoral campaign.

Machen would not comment further on the investigation into Gray, nor did he offer any hints as to when it would wrap up.

"We’re aware of the political situation," he said, referring to the upcoming April 2014 mayoral primary. "That being said, we didn’t create this cloud over this city. These are not just slight errors in judgment—this is criminal conduct. This office will not be a panacea for all wrongdoing by public officials. There is pressure, but we’ve got to make the right decisions," he said.

Machen did offer some insight into how the cases had ballooned and seemingly reached into all facets of the city's political class.

"When you start investigations into conduct, a lot of times it will take you in different directions. Our job is to look at everything and hold those who are culpable accountable, and that’s what we’re doing in all of our cases," he said.

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