‘Challenges and obstacles’ are delaying Gray probe, U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. says

‘Challenges and obstacles’ are delaying Gray probe, U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. says

By Mike DeBonis and Ann E. Marimow, Published: November 20 | Updated: Thursday, November 21, 12:20 PM

Mayor Vincent C. Gray acknowledged Thursday that the ongoing federal investigation into his 2010 campaign has kept him from making a final decision on whether to seek a second term, a day after the District’s top prosecutor cited “challenges and obstacles” for the delays in finishing the probe.

“Obviously . . . we’d love this situation to be over with,” Gray said during a morning interview on NewsChannel 8. “It’s gone on for a very long time. And it would be better to have that behind me.”

U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said Wednesday evening that some of those calling on him to finish his sweeping corruption probe are not cooperating with it.

“Some of the same people who are saying ‘Hurry up, hurry up’ may also be involved in not coming forward with the information we need,” he said.

Machen did not name any particular individuals, and Gray on Thursday demurred when asked about the comments. “I think [Machen] would have to further explain that himself,” he said. “I don’t know who he’s referring to or what he’s referring to, frankly.”

Machen’s comments, among the most extensive he has made on the nearly three-year-old investigation, came during an evening interview at a Capitol Hill community center with WRC (Channel 4) reporter Tom Sherwood.

Machen said he was well aware of the high-profile case and its potential influence on the upcoming mayoral election. But he said that the election calendar would not dictate his timetable for bringing charges, saying “we can’t just wrap up an investigation when we’re still in the midst of gathering information.”

“We know the situation; we know there’s a sense of urgency,” he said. “But you’ve got to understand the situation, with all the challenges and obstacles. . . . The people of this city want us to get it right.”

Among the obstacles, Machen said, is his recent and ongoing dispute with D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan over access to documents relating to the city’s 2011 settlement with a health-care firm owned by businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson.

Thompson, several people with knowledge of the investigation say, is the unnamed executive described in court documents as funding a secret “shadow campaign” on Gray’s behalf. Nathan has said the documents Machen is seeking are protected by attorney-client privilege, and he has defended the settlement as aboveboard.

Machen on Wednesday did not acknowledge Thompson’s alleged role in the investigation or many other specifics when Sherwood pressed him for details.

But Machen said that it would be a mistake for the public to believe that the lack of recent charges indicates that the probe has stalled indefinitely.

“You’ve got four people associated with a mayoral campaign who have pled guilty to felonies,” he said. “It’s not like we’ve been looking at this for three years, and there’s no there there. I mean, there’s there there, and we’re trying to gather information, we’re trying to get documents, and we’re trying to talk to people.”

Gray (D), in his public comments on the investigation, has denied engaging in any wrongdoing and has said the investigation should run its course. But he is now under considerable pressure to announce his reelection decision as challengers, including four sitting D.C. Council members, line up to run in the Democratic primary.

On Thursday, Gray said he has gone “back and forth considering these things” but made it clear he did not hold any of his potential successors in particularly high regard.

“It’s very difficult for those who are running to find anything substantively to talk about in terms of the performance of this administration over the last two years and now 11 months,” he said.

Gray said he hasn’t set an “ironclad date” for making a decision but acknowledged that it will become more difficult to gather the necessary voter signatures to appear on the April 1 primary ballot as an early-January deadline approaches.

“I have no control over [the investigation],” he said. “I have no say in that. So, you know, I will have to make a decision based largely on the facts in front of me at this stage.”

When pressed by reporters after the Wednesday event, Machen repeated that the election calendar would not influence the course of his investigation.

“We’re going to keep looking at all of these matters until we can reach a resolution, one way or the other,” he said. But he added, in general “we try not to influence elections.”

Aaron C. Davis contributed to this report.

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