The D.C. Council will hire a law firm to investigate embattled lawmaker Jack Evans and would likely make the findings public, Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said Monday.
Mendelson told reporters that he wants to find an unbiased law firm with expertise in investigations to conduct much of the probe, which could begin as early as next month. The investigation will be overseen by an ad hoc committee of the council; Mendelson said he has not decided which lawmakers will serve on the committee.
Mendelson announced last week that he would remove Evans as chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue.
“Enough has come out that an investigation is warranted and at the same time enough has come out that taking these steps of removing him as chair of the committee is warranted,” Mendelson said.
Federal authorities searched Evans’s Georgetown home Friday, escalating their probe of the Ward 2 Democrat and his private business dealings. The search came one day after The Washington Post published a confidential memo by a law firm hired by Metro that said Evans improperly used his position as chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority to help his consulting clients.
Mendelson said he had “no regrets” about declining to launch an investigation into Evans in March, when several lawmakers urged a probe after The Post published emails sent by Evans to prospective employers in which he offered to use his connections and influence as the city’s longest-serving council member and as chairman of the Metro board.
Those emails prompted Metro to launch its own ethics probe. After its completion, Evans and the District’s other representative on the Metro board, Corbett Price, falsely insisted that the investigation found no ethics violations.
The transit agency initially declined to disclose the findings but relented under pressure from the governors of Maryland and Virginia.
Mendelson had harsh words for Evans and Price for failing to disclose that the ethics committee found Evans guilty of a conflict of interest related to his actions as Metro chairman and his consulting work for a parking company.
“We were told — [council] members — and the public was told there was no finding of a violation by the Metro ethics committee, when in fact there was,” Mendelson said. “I don’t think that misstatement can be minimized.”
After the findings of the Metro ethics investigation became public last week, Evans resigned his position from the Metro board, effective Thursday.
Mendelson did not call for Price to also step down as the city’s representative to the Metro board. Price on Monday declined to comment.
“I think the issue at hand concerns Mr. Evans,” Mendelson said after being repeatedly pressed by reporters. “I’m not prepared to talk about Mr. Price today.”
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) also did not criticize Price, whom she appointed to the Metro board in 2015, when she was asked about it last week.
“I have some concern about all of the kind of blurriness over the ethics committee’s work, including people saying there was no report — and there was a report,” Bowser said. “I’m not clear if the members knew there was a report. I think there’s a lot around that process that’s left to be desired.”
Mendelson said the council was unlikely to choose a replacement for Evans on the Metro board before adjourning for summer recess. The District’s alternative representative, Tom Bulger, will fill in for Evans until a permanent successor is selected, he said.
The D.C. Council last investigated one of its own in 2013 when then-member Marion S. Barry disclosed accepting cash from city contractors.
Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who oversaw the probe into Barry, issued a statement over the weekend urging the council to not let politics drive the Evans investigation.
“Because of the climate, naturally some people are outraged by the allegations they have heard concerning Mr. Evans’s behavior. I understand that,” McDuffie said in an interview Monday. “But it’s important to let the facts and the evidence drive the decisions.”
While some groups and elected neighborhood commissioners have demanded Evans resign from the D.C. Council, none of his colleagues have done so.
“Based on what we know, and based on the facts so far, I would say that’s an issue between Mr. Evans and the voters,” Mendelson said.
Evans’s term expires in 2020. He has not said whether he intends to seek reelection.
Mendelson said he could not formally remove Evans from his perch leading the influential Committee on Finance and Revenue until July 9.
Evans was set to lead a Wednesday hearing on a proposed sole-source contract to operate the city’s lottery and upcoming sports gambling program, but Mendelson said he will conduct that hearing instead.
Evans has not spoken publicly about the search of his home and did not immediately return a request for comment Monday.
On Saturday, he stopped by a Ward 2 Democrats meeting where he gave short remarks that did not address his recent troubles, according to several attendees and an audio recording of his speech. He was also photographed over the weekend dining barefoot on the patio of Italian restaurant Sette Osteria in Dupont Circle.
Mendelson said that once the council’s investigation of Evans is complete, he is inclined to make the full report public.
“As I’m standing here, I think that would be appropriate,” Mendelson said. “If there’s something in that report I can’t imagine right now — like confidential information from the CIA — I wouldn’t make it public, but I can’t imagine that.”
Meanwhile, some activists are trying to force a recall election against Evans by collecting signatures from more than 5,000 registered voters in Ward 2. Organizer Adam Eidinger said he has seen an uptick in interest since last week and is planning a petition blitz in the Shaw and Logan Circle neighborhoods Saturday. He declined to say how many signatures have been collected.
Peter Hermann and Peter Jamison contributed to this report.