The Department of Justice hasn’t gotten completely out of the indictment business after all. Late last night, NBC’s Jacksonville affiliate broke the news that Rep. Corrine Brown (D) had returned to the city to face a federal judge later today. Her indictment has been sealed, but First Coast News reports that it appears to be related to a charity in Virginia linked to Brown:
The indictments are sealed, and details are sketchy, but may stem from Brown’s involvement in a group called “One Door for Education,” which advertised itself as a charity, but was never a registered nonprofit. One Door’s president Carla Wiley entered a guilty plea of Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud charges in early March (see below).
Brown’s Jacksonville based attorney Bill Sheppard tells First Coast News he is “not at liberty to say” anything about an indictment. Sheppard says he will not have any comment until indictments are unsealed.
That plea appeared to implicate Brown, then identified only as “Person A,” alleging she benefited personally from funds raised by One Door. The documents described “Person A” as a public official who was often used in promotional materials for the group. Brown’s photo appeared on the website for the group before it was taken down.
The documents suggest more than $150,000 raised by One Door was used not for charitable purposes, but political events, travel and hotels.
An NBC reporter caught up with Brown at the airport, who told him that the indictment was both politically and racially motivated. That might be news to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, a fellow Democrat and one of the most prominent African-American women in the US, but … YMMV. Shortly after that bon mot, Brown suddenly discovered the wisdom of refraining from comment before going into court and having lawyers present. (It’s worth noting that Brown’s attorney wouldn’t confirm an indictment, but there seems to be little reason otherwise to have to come to court this afternoon.)
Besides, this case has percolated for months and has already produced one conviction. Ever since then, the FBI has been following the money, as it were, and apparently their first stop is at Brown’s door. The motivation in this case would be follow-through on fraud. One has to suspect that a federal judge, with a true bill in hand from a grand jury, will not look with particular favor on a powerful member of Congress insisting that she’s the victim of either alleged animus, especially from a DoJ run by her own party.
Brown seeks re-election this year, and normally would have faced a fairly easy run in a D+16 district. However, her fellow Democrats had challenged the redistricting map and a new configuration was approved last December — one that only left her with 38% of her previous constituency. Brown had challenged it in court and had gotten the Congressional Black Caucus to ally with her against the DCCC, which brought the original suit. Brown’s attempts to reverse the redrawing of her district failed in April of this year.
Brown still should have had a relatively easy ride back to Washington for a thirteenth term in Congress, but that definitely looks iffy now. That’s good news for former state senator Al Lawson, who had filed a primary against Brown, but still not likely great news for Republican Glo Smith, who lost to Brown 65/35 in 2014 and is the only GOP candidate in the race.
With the new boundaries and the shadow of scandal over the longtime Democratic incumbent, however, Smith should have the prevailing winds at her back. Whether they’re strong enough to push her across the finish line will be another matter, and might depend on the case that will begin to unfold this afternoon.