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Questions About D.C. Mayor May Raise Conflict For Attorney General Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder has lived in the District of Columbia for more than two decades. So it's not surprising that he sometimes takes an interest in local government affairs. But some of his actions during last year's hotly contested race for D.C. mayor could complicate Holder's day job as the nation's top law enforcement officer.

Attorney General Eric Holder. (File Photo; March 10, 2011.) i i

hide captionAttorney General Eric Holder. (File Photo; March 10, 2011.)

Ann Heisenfelt/AP
Attorney General Eric Holder. (File Photo; March 10, 2011.)

Attorney General Eric Holder. (File Photo; March 10, 2011.)

Ann Heisenfelt/AP

Holder took the unusual step of going on record with the local radio station WTOP last year, when he told reporters he had cast his vote for Democratic mayoral candidate Vincent Gray. The attorney general met with Gray behind closed doors last September to discuss cooperation on local and federal law enforcement issues, and he attended Gray's inauguration in January.

Now, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and the Washington field office of the FBI are "assessing" alleged improprieties in last year's mayoral race, after candidate Sulaimon Brown told The Washington Post that he received cash payments and the promise of a job from officials in the Gray campaign if he stayed in the primary campaign and continued to launch barbs at then-mayor (and another Democrat) Adrian Fenty. The matter has not yet advanced into a formal criminal investigation, according to two people following the inquiry. Gray, as the Post reports, has denied the allegations.

Given the attorney general's public show of support for Gray, would Holder play a role in overseeing the assessment or recuse himself? Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller would not say one way or another, but he sent an e-mail reporting that "the Attorney General follows the department's strict ethics rules in every matter."

Justice Department guidelines say employees there should ask for guidance from the ethics office if their impartiality could be questioned, particularly in cases involving financial interests or close personal relationships.

The rules also bar Justice employees from participating in criminal investigations if they have "a personal or political relationship with any person or organization substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution, or any person or organization which he knows has a specific or substantial interest that would be directly affected by the outcome of the investigation or prosecution."

[Carrie Johnson covers the Justice Department for NPR.]

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