RICHMOND — A federal investigator testified Wednesday that Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s pick for commerce and trade secretary did not intentionally break federal anti-lobbying laws, but it remained unclear whether the House of Delegates would confirm Maurice Jones for the Cabinet post.
The House was on the verge of approving Jones and 12 other nominees to the Democrat’s Cabinet on Tuesday when it learned of an inspector general’s report indicating that Jones had engaged in improper lobbying as deputy HUD secretary. The House delayed action on all of the appointments Tuesday and again Wednesday.
Testifying on the matter before a U.S. House subcommittee Wednesday, HUD Inspector General David A. Montoya said he believed that Jones did not knowingly break any federal laws, the Associated Press reported. Jones was following bad advice from staff workers when he allowed e-mails to be sent on his behalf to 1,000 people, including 46 HUD employees, asking them to contact certain U.S. senators and urge them to vote for a budget bill.
The inspector general concluded that the e-mails appeared to have violated anti-lobbying law as well as internal HUD policy.
“He was hoping and depending on his staff . . . to properly advise him. I think that’s where the failure here is,” Montoya said. “Quite frankly, we found nothing in this that would suggest to us that it was his fault, per se.”
Jones, a former Virginian-Pilot publisher who left the paper in early 2012 for HUD, said this week that he would “never intentionally violate the laws, policies or codes of conduct that govern public officials.”
McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said that Montoya’s statement should resolve any questions about Jones’s appointment.
“I think the statement by the IG pretty much closes the issue here,” Coy said. “I think everybody’s ready to move on.”
But that sentiment was not universal in the Capitol, where a Cabinet nominee being the subject of a federal investigation raised questions about the administration’s vetting process.
Coy declined to say whether Jones had informed the administration that he was under investigation or whether he was asked anything during the interview process that should have prompted disclosure.
“That’s internal,” Coy said.
It is typical for Cabinet appointees to be asked if there is anything in their background that could embarrass the governor, according to people familiar with vetting by previous administrations.
It was not clear if the House would vote on the Cabinet as a whole Thursday or sever Jones’s name from the group and send his appointment back to committee.
“No decisions have been made,” said Matthew Moran, a spokesman for House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford).