Ronald Machen

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Ronald C. Machen
Ronald Machen US Attorney.jpg
United States Attorney for the District of Columbia
In office
February 2010 – March 31, 2015
Appointed by Barack Obama
Preceded by Kenneth L. Wainstein
Succeeded by Vincent H. Cohen, Jr. (Acting)
Personal details
Alma mater Stanford University (B.A.)
Harvard Law School (J.D.)

Ronald C. Machen, Jr. is the former United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. In April 2015, he left the position and returned to the law firm WilmerHale after the longest tenure as US Attorney for the District of Columbia in more than 35 years.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Machen grew up in Detroit, Michigan.[2] He attended Stanford University, where he was a walk-on wide receiver for the Stanford Cardinal football team.[3] Machen graduated from Stanford in 1991 with bachelor degrees in economics and political science.[3] He earned his Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1994.[4] After graduating from Harvard, Machen served as a law clerk to Damon J. Keith, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.[5]


Mr. Machen began his career in U.S. government as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia under then U.S. Attorney Eric Holder in January 1997.[6] He held this position for 5 years before returning to private practice in white-collar criminal defense, corporate internal investigations, and civil litigation until 2010.[6]

On December 23, 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Machen to serve as the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.[4] He was confirmed by the United States Senate on February 11, 2010.[7]

Machen has prosecuted numerous corruption cases involving Jesse Jackson Jr., and the administration of D.C. mayor Vincent C. Gray.[8]

On September 12, 2014 Machen set up the first federal unit in the nation to identify and investigate cases that ended in wrongful convictions.The unit will review cases in which defendants convicted of violent felonies can offer new evidence, such as DNA testing, that may establish innocence. A number of prosecutors’ offices have established similar units in recent years, including the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office in Texas.[9]

Machen resigned and, on April 1, 2015, was succeeded by Vincent H. Cohen, Jr., as Acting United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.[10]

Lois Lerner contempt case in the IRS targeting controversy[edit]

In May 2014, Machen began investigating the embattled director of the tax-exempt organizations division of the Internal Revenue Service, Lois Lerner, for Contempt of Congress with regard to her statements before a congressional committee involving the 2013 IRS targeting controversy.[11]

On March 31, 2015, Machen issued a seven-page letter to Speaker John Boehner of the U.S. House of Representatives to the effect that Machen had concluded that Lerner did not waive her privilege against compelled self-incrimination. Machen asserted that because Lerner made only "general denials" of wrongdoing, her statements did not amount to "testimony" that would have waived her privilege.[12]

Machen also asserted another possible reason that, in his view, Lerner could not be found to have waived her Fifth Amendment privilege. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in McCarthy v. Arndstein, Machen stated that Lerner was an ordinary witness compelled to testify by subpoena and that "where the previous disclosure by an ordinary witness is not an actual admission of guilt or incriminating facts, he is not deprived of the privilege of stopping short in his testimony whenever it may fairly tend to incriminate him."[13]

National Security Leaks[edit]

Machen participated in a number of prosecutions of individuals involved in the dissemination of information of natural security interest. One such notable case included the application of the Espionage Act against Dr. Stephen Jin-Woo Kim after Kim told a reporter that North Korea would probably test its nuclear program. The case was controversial because it was one of a string of unprecedented uses of the Espionage Act against officials for speaking with journalists .[14]

Machen's office successfully prosecuted individuals who conspired to provide information to Cuba, Israel, and a Chinese nuclear construction firm.[6]

2012 Benghazi[edit]

Shortly after the 2012 attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya, and the death of the American ambassador, the U.S. Attorney of Washington, D.C. was assigned the case. Ahmad Khattala has been arrested and awaits trial. Questions have been raised why this case is being handled in this office, and not others with more experience in this type of case.[15]

Public Corruption[edit]

Over 160 guilty pleas were acquired during his tenure including, most notably three District of Columbia council members Harry Thomas, Jr., Kwame Brown, and Michael A. Brown. His office also successfully obtained a conviction of Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. for conspiracy to defraud his campaign of $750,000.[6]

Investigation of Mayor Gray[edit]

Between 2011 and 2015, Machen led an investigation into the 2010 District of Columbia mayoral election that led to the felony convictions of six people – including several top associates of Mayor Vincent Gray – involved in secretly funneling $653,000 to support Gray’s 2010 campaign.[16] In March 2014, Machen and other law enforcement officials held a press conference to announce the guilty plea of contractor Jeffrey Thompson, who admitted to conspiring with Gray during the 2010 campaign.[16] The announcement, which came just weeks before the Democratic primary, was widely believed to influence the 2014 Mayoral Election and Muriel Bowser's primary victory. In December 2015, Machen's successor, Channing D. Phillips, closed the investigation without filing criminal charges against Gray.[17]


  1. ^ "Norton Thanks U.S. Attorney for D.C. Ronald Machen for Exceptional Service Following Decision to Step Down". 
  2. ^ Alexander, Keith L. (April 19, 2010). "D.C.'s U.S. attorney: One foot in court, one in the streets". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 20, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Kiefer, David (September 23, 2009). "FOOTBALL: Former Cardinal could be top prosecutor". Retrieved February 20, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b The White House: Office of the Press Secretary (December 24, 2009). "President Obama Nominates Seven U.S. Attorneys". Retrieved February 20, 2011. 
  5. ^ "Machen nominated to serve as U.S. Attorney for D.C.". Harvard Law School. 
  6. ^ a b c d "United States Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. to Step Down Vincent H. Cohen Jr. to Become Acting U.S. Attorney". U.S. Department of Justice. March 16, 2015. Retrieved July 10, 2015. 
  7. ^ Ingram, David (February 12, 2010). "Senate Confirms U.S. Attorney for D.C.". The Blog of Legal Times. Retrieved February 20, 2011. 
  8. ^ DeBonis, Mike; Stewart, Nikita (July 12, 2012). "D.C. Politics". The Washington Post. 
  9. ^ Ramstack, Tom. "Washington U.S. attorney sets up first unit to ID wrongful convictions". Reuters. Retrieved 12 September 2014. 
  10. ^ Information release, Meet the U.S. Attorney, Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, U.S. Department of Justice, at [1].
  11. ^ Report (May 8, 2012). "US Attorney To Oversee Lerner Contempt Case Appointed By Obama". CBS DC. .
  12. ^ Letter from Ronald C. Machen, United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, U.S. Dep't of Justice, to John A. Boehner, Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives, March 31, 2015, p. 5.
  13. ^ Letter from Ronald C. Machen, United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, U.S. Dep't of Justice, to The Honorable John A. Boehner, Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives, March 31, 2015, p. 5, citing and quoting McCarthy v. Arndstein, 262 U.S. 355, 359 (1923).
  14. ^ Ex-Contractor at State Dept. Pleads Guilty in Leak Case, New York Times, CHARLIE SAVAGE, FEB. 7, 2014. See also Statement of Offense, US District Court, DC, 2014 February (court document), via the Federation of American Scientists website
  15. ^ Holder decision questioned
  16. ^ a b Alexander, Keith (9 December 2015). "Long-running probe ends without charges against former D.C. mayor Vincent Gray". The Washington Post. Washington, DC. Retrieved 24 December 2015. 
  17. ^ "Jury: Ex-Blackwater contractors guilty in 'outrageous' Nusoor Square shooting". CNN. Oct 10, 2014. .