D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) on Tuesday introduced a resolution to reprimand member Jack Evans for using government email to solicit business from District lobbying firms — offering his influence and connections amassed as the city’s longest-serving lawmaker.
“This reprimand will send a clear message that Mr. Evans’ actions are not only unacceptable but are inconsistent with the Council’s ethical standards,” Mendelson said in a statement released at the start of a regularly scheduled council breakfast, where Evans sat at the head of the table, looking grim.
“I believe that a reprimand at this point, which is a very, very unusual action, is appropriate,” Mendelson said after the breakfast. “To my way of thinking, the issue is quite clear, and it doesn’t require an investigation, and that is using council resources to seek private gain is a violation of our code of conduct.”
Evans (D-Ward 2) offered a brief public apology Tuesday but declined to answer questions. “I’d just like to say in retrospect I would have done a lot of things differently,” he told reporters in the hallway outside the D.C. Council chambers. “I certainly made some major mistakes, and I want to take this opportunity to apologize to my constituents and the residents of the District of Columbia and to my colleagues, so that’s all I have to say.”
Mendelson said a request by three other council members — David Grosso (I-At Large), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) and Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) — to create a special council committee to investigate Evans is not necessary.
Mendelson noted the city’s Board of Ethics and Government Accountability has already been looking into Evans’s actions and that a federal grand jury investigation is also underway.
But Grosso hit back, saying Mendelson’s proposed reprimand was “merely a slap on the wrist, allowing the council to check a box and move on.”
“It stops short of any real accountability as Councilmember Evans will remain at the helm of the powerful Finance and Revenue Committee from which he peddled his influence using the prestige of his office,” Grosso said in a statement released during the breakfast meeting. “Additionally, he remains on the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, which has oversight of the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. True consequences for his behavior should necessitate the reorganization of the current committee structure.
“Based on media reports over the past year, this does not appear to be an isolated incident, but rather a pattern of behavior,” Grosso’s statement said.
Nadeau called the reprimand “a good first step” but said “there really do need to be consequences for this action.” She noted that her predecessor, Jim Graham, lost committee responsibilities when he was reprimanded.
“An ad hoc committee could more comprehensively examine what the best course of action is,” Nadeau said.
Silverman also stood by her call for an investigation but didn’t go as far as Nadeau and Grosso in saying Evans should lose his committee assignment. Such penalties, she said, should be considered by a special committee.
Council members Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) and Anita Bonds (D-At Large) said a reprimand without an additional investigation was appropriate.
“What would we investigate? We have the evidence, and in my world of being a lawyer, you have hearings and that sort of thing to determine facts,” said Cheh, who previously served on a special committee to investigate former council member Marion S. Barry when he was accused of taking money from contractors. “Maybe there’s something more to investigate, I’m not sure. In any case, I’m not sure we’re at the end of the road here.”
Council members Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) and Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) declined to comment on the proposed reprimand, while Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) did not return requests for comment.
Evans is facing growing scrutiny after The Washington Post reported last week that he sent solicitations via government email to law firms that lobby the D.C. government, offering his contacts and sway as a lawmaker and chair of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board.
In a 2018 pitch to Nelson Mullins, a law firm that had lobbied his office just months before, Evans offered to engage in “cross-marketing my relationships and influence to Nelson Mullins clients.” He also noted he was one of only 15 elected officials in a place where a “contract, bill, or regulation can go from idea to consummation in a matter of months.”
The WMATA board on Monday directed the agency’s ethics officer to investigate Evans. That review was initiated by Clarence C. Crawford, Maryland’s representative and the board’s first vice chair, and did not require a vote, WMATA spokesman Dan Stessel said.
The board’s ethics committee scheduled a meeting for Wednesday to discuss “investigations and other legal matters requiring the provision of legal advice or consultation with counsel and staff members.” The meeting was called by Crawford instead of Evans, who normally leads the ethics committee, indicating the meeting may pertain to Evans.
Mendelson settled on a reprimand after consulting with Evans and other council members, as well as the council’s lawyer. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), an ally of Evans, did not take a position Monday about what, if any, consequences Evans should face.
Mendelson said Evans’s business proposals violated language in the council’s code of conduct that says council members may not knowingly use their prestige of office or public position for private gain or use government resources for personal business.
It does not concern “other allegations that have been in the news recently about Councilmember Evans because those allegations are under investigation by both BEGA and a federal grand jury,” Mendelson said.
The Post reported last week that a federal grand jury has issued a subpoena to D.C. officials for documents related to legislation that Evans promoted in 2016 that would have benefited a digital sign company, Digi Outdoor Media. Evans received money and stock from the company and has said he returned both.
Evans said Tuesday that his apology was directed at the actions referred to in the reprimand and not to his interactions with Digi Outdoor, which he said he will not discuss until federal prosecutors finish their probe.
“Just let it take its course, that’s the best I can tell you, and then we’ll see what happens. Hopefully it all comes out fine,” Evans said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote to D.C. Council member Jack Evans. Chairman Phil Mendelson said the reprimand does not concern “other allegations that have been in the news recently about Councilmember Evans because those allegations are under investigation by both BEGA and a federal grand jury.”
Faiz Siddiqui contributed to this report.