February 7, 2013

“WE FIND there to be sufficient evidence to conclude that Councilmember Graham committed one or more violations of the District of Columbia Code of Conduct . . . .So wrote the D.C. ethics board Thursday, finding that Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) violated basic standards of how public officials are supposed to behave in the public’s interest.

The conclusion of the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability resulted from its preliminary inquiry into Mr. Graham’s conduct in 2008 in considering public contracts while on the council and as the city’s representative to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Mr. Graham, the board wrote in a devastating 27-page memorandum, “abandoned his impartiality and demonstrated inappropriate preferential treatment” in offering to support a bidder for the city’s lottery contract if the bidder would drop out of a separate Metro development project.

Despite finding that at least three provisions of the city employee code of conduct were violated, and despite doubting Mr. Graham’s credibility in several instances, the board decided not to proceed further because it has no authority to impose sanctions on a D.C. Council member’s behavior prior to 2012, when it was created. But the board did not allow this technicality to keep it from expressing how objectionable it found Mr. Graham’s conduct. What Mr. Graham’s lawyer had characterized as “sharp-elbowed political behavior” was, the board countered, inappropriate tactics designed to exact punishment on a bidder disliked by the council member while steering a benefit to a favored firm that had contributed to his campaign.

Mr. Graham has consistently denied any wrongdoing. William W. Taylor III, his attorney, released a statement calling the opinion “disappointing and unfair” and said “legal options” are under consideration. Mr. Taylor faulted the board for reaching conclusions without doing its own fact-finding. His argument is unpersuasive, considering that a series of inquiries conducted by a variety of officials agree on the basic facts.

An independent investigation conducted for the Metro board by an internationally renowned law firm amassed more than 18,000 pages of sworn testimony and documents that provided convincing evidence of Mr. Graham’s misconduct. This included testimony from Mr. Graham that, the ethics board noted, “significantly . . . did not explicitly deny offering such a quid pro quo.”The investigative report finding that Mr. Graham had violated the transit system’s code of conduct was unanimously accepted by the Metro board. Mr. Graham is no longer on that board, and he escaped any sanctions.

What he can’t escape is that his actions have again been found indefensible. The ethics board found “substantial reason to believe” that Mr. Graham violated “at least” three sections of the D.C. Code of Conduct: “giving preferential treatment to any person,” “losing complete independence or impartiality” and “affecting adversely the confidence of the public in the integrity of government.” The best way to begin restoring that confidence would be for Mr. Graham to resign.