“All of the essential facts are known. You have a law firm who spent $800,000 of public funds to uncover every aspect of this. To have another investigation, I don’t know why.”
So spoke D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) in October as he questioned the need for the city’s ethics board to conduct a formal probe of his actions in 2008 as he considered public contracts. Now that the ethics board has investigated and harshly rebuked Mr. Graham, he seems less convinced that all the facts are known. As he maneuvers to forestall a reprimand from the council, Mr. Graham now insists that further investigation is needed.
On Friday a D.C. Superior Court judge rejected Mr. Graham’s bid for an emergency order to overturn the opinion of the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability that he acted inappropriately. Mr. Graham is alleged to have offered to support a bidder for the city’s lottery contract if the bidder would withdraw from a separate Metro land deal so that another firm Mr. Graham favored could develop the parcel. The ethics board concluded that Mr. Graham, at the time also a Metro board member, violated at least three principles of the city’s code of conduct. But it decided not to proceed to a full investigation because no provisions for penalties against council members were in place at the time of his actions.
Mr. Graham has denied any wrongdoing. One of his attorneys, Caroline Judge Mehta, told us that he will continue efforts to strike the board’s finding from the public record. She said the process had denied Mr. Graham a fair hearing and was “a disgrace.”
Whether the ethics board met legal muster is an issue for the court, but it is clear from the information amassed in a series of investigations dating back to 2008 and including the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority report Mr. Graham cited that he acted improperly.
“His conduct adversely harmed the public’s confidence of the District government,” said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), who has called for a special council meeting Monday to reprimand Mr. Graham and strip his committee of coveted oversight over liquor licenses.
The record amply justifies such a reprimand. But if the council accedes to Mr. Graham’s wish for a full-scale council investigation, maybe it can finally determine whether the specious charges he brought against former procurement officer Eric W. Payne were part of political manipulations of the lottery contract. Maybe the developers Mr. Graham is alleged to have favored in the Metro deal would be more cooperative than they were with Metro investigators.
And maybe Mr. Graham’s memory will have improved since July 27, 2012, when in sworn testimony to an investigator for Metro he was asked point-blank “did you give – make any statement whatsoever . . . that could have been interpreted or misinterpreted as a quid pro quo, if you give me something, I will give you something.” Mr. Graham said he couldn’t recall, to which his questioner expressed some surprise since “making a statement of a constituent or a person in the District that if you give me this, I’ll support you for this seems to me like a pretty serious thing. And I’m – I’m just a bit surprised that you just don’t recall that.”