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D.C. officials consulted crisis expert

- Associated Press - Monday, August 6, 2012

Staffers for the District's embattled mayor have sought the advice of a crisis-management expert who advised Monica Lewinsky and inspired the television drama "Scandal," according to emails obtained by the Associated Press.

Judy Smith, who bills herself as "America's No. 1 Crisis Management Expert," was introduced to Mayor Vincent C. Gray's chief of staff by a mutual acquaintance, and the two later arranged a breakfast meeting, according to the emails, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Pedro Ribeiro, Mr. Gray's spokesman, confirmed the meeting took place but said Ms. Smith has not been working for the mayor. He would not say whether she has spoken to Mr. Gray directly.

"Ms. Smith has no role in the administration, paid or otherwise," he said.

Mr. Gray has been engulfed in scandal for the majority of his 19 months in office. Three campaign aides have pleaded guilty to federal offenses, including a longtime friend of Mr. Gray's who admitted that she arranged off-the-books payments totaling $650,000 to help Mr. Gray win the election.

U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said Mr. Gray's 2010 victory was tainted because of the illicit funds, which were not disclosed to the public. Three members of the D.C. Council have called on Mr. Gray to resign, and the mayor has faced persistent questions about whether he was aware of the effort described by prosecutors as a "shadow campaign." Following the advice of his attorney, Robert S. Bennett, he has refused to discuss the matter in detail. The investigation is ongoing.

Ms. Smith was introduced on June 15 to the mayor's chief of staff, Christopher Murphy, by Barbara Lang, president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and a Gray supporter, the emails show. Mr. Murphy was "very willing to talk to get your thoughts/ideas," Ms. Lang wrote to Ms. Smith.

At that point, two of Mr. Gray's campaign aides had pleaded guilty to funneling money to a minor mayoral candidate and trying to cover up the payments. The candidate, Sulaimon Brown, was paid to stay in the 2010 Democratic primary and make negative comments about then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, the aides admitted.

The introduction also came a week after Mr. Gray's political ally, Kwame R. Brown, pleaded guilty to bank fraud and resigned as D.C. Council chairman. That case was unrelated to the mayor's struggles but contributed to the cloud hanging over district government.

Mr. Murphy and Ms. Smith corresponded by email later in June and set up a breakfast meeting for July 11, in the middle of what turned out to be a tumultuous week for the mayor. On July 10, the mayor's longtime friend Eugenia "Jeanne" Clarke Harris pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction charges and admitted her role in the shadow campaign. Shortly after Mr. Murphy and Ms. Smith met, the mayor calmly defended his record at a news conference and pledged to finish his term. That afternoon, three D.C. council members called on him to step down.

Ms. Smith, who rarely discloses her active clients or discusses her work in detail, declined to comment.

"He probably needs that kind of help right now," said Tony Bullock, who served as communications director for former Mayor Anthony A. Williams. "What's under attack is his legitimacy, and as a public official, that's a very serious problem. It's not whether or not you're governing well, it's whether you have the right to govern at all."

In addition to Ms. Lewinsky, whose affair with President Bill Clinton led to his impeachment, Ms. Smith has advised former Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, who pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after an airport sex sting; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who went to prison for dogfighting; and actor Wesley Snipes, currently in prison for tax evasion. Before she founded her own firm, Ms. Smith worked as a deputy press secretary for President George H.W. Bush.

Ms. Smith is a co-executive producer on the ABC drama series "Scandal," which stars Kerry Washington in a role closely based on her. Its second season will begin airing in September.

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