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No one likes a sore winner. On the other hand, no one likes to be told that their investigation of a crooked councilmember is politically motivated, only to have that crooked pol plead guilty to two federal felonies.
So, with that in mind, we called Peter Nickles, the former D.C. attorney general who began investigating Harry Thomas Jr.‘s dubious nonprofit late in the Adrian Fenty administration, to ask for his thoughts now that Thomas has copped to his crimes and resigned.
Would the famously blunt Nickles echo those other D.C. politicians whose Thomas-related statements included thoughts consoling the ex-councilmember’s family? Of course not.
“I was thinking as I read the story that if, in a newspaper column, one recited just 50 percent of the times he said he knew nothing about it, he committed no wrong, he was faithful to his community, you would have two or three finely printed pages of news,” Nickles began.
“Keep in mind that when we started this, he said Team Thomas was dormant. He said he’d provide all info. We had to get a subpoena. The day it was due, he held a press conference and showed video of him playing with kids and said he had gone to Atlanta and Las Vegas to buy baseball equipment for them….He stalled it all out in an effort to extend it beyond my term. I still do not know if he produced everything.”
Nickles—who said he believes current D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan has done a good job—added that he hadn’t liked the initial settlement between Thomas and the city, which called on Thomas to repay $300,000 of city money meant for the nonprofit but used for purposes that ranged from Thomas’ Audi SUV to a meal at Hooters. “I was critical of the settlement because he did not admit to any wrongdoing, and I did not know how he would pay for it,” he said. “He still hasn’t.” (Thomas missed a deadline Tuesday to make a $50,000 payment to the city.)
Nickles also used the occasion to blast some of his old nemeses in D.C. politics. “There’s a long history with this guy,” he said. “I’m afraid that these same kinds of transgressions, the culture of the council, is still present.”
Nickles said his biggest regret was “not being tougher on the council” when he was in office. In the investigation’s early days, Thomas “claimed this was all a political stunt and this was retribution for him, Thomas, going after [Fenty].” Thomas wasn’t the only one who’d leveled that sort of charge. “I was called to resign by, among others, Mayor Gray, because among other things it was alleged that I was using the office politically,” Nickles said.
In contrast, only three councilmembers—and not the mayor—called for Thomas’ head after his settlement deal last summer. “Keep in mind that there was always one political figure who was always at Vince Gray‘s side during the campaign, and that was Harry Thomas. And until this all became clear, [Gray] never asked for Harry Thomas to resign.”
For the record, though, Nickles said he was not surprised by the outcome. “You’ve gotta hang in there because these guys can wait you out,” he said. “There was a lot of effort to keep this quiet and just to bully your way through…I knew when I left that the amount of evidence we had accumulated would not allow any attorney general to let the matter drop.”
“I hope that people realize that what these guys are doing not only has an impact, not just on the culture of the city and the government, but an impact on real people,” he added.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery