Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and the council received federal subpoenas last week for documents related to Evans and his constellation of private legal and consulting clients.
The Washington Post reported that Evans has repeatedly solicited business from law firms that had lobbied the city government, touting his influence and connections as an elected official to help them win clients.
The subpoenas arrived as Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) proposed that the council reprimand Evans, 65, the city’s longest-serving lawmaker. With that threat looming, the council opted to hear from Evans and his lawyer, Mark Tuohey, on Tuesday and voted 9 to 3 to hold the session in private.
As they closed the meeting to the public, council members cited exemptions to open meeting rules for the purpose of discussing personnel matters and to seek legal advice.
Council Member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) said it was “a simple human issue.”
“I mean, somebody is being investigated, it’s very serious,” McDuffie said. “Why not afford a colleague an opportunity to make a statement to the 12 of us and just hear him out?”
Voting with Evans, McDuffie and Mendelson to close the meeting were council members Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) and Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4). Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), absent because he was caring for a new baby, tweeted that the meeting should not have been closed.
The three lawmakers who objected — David Grosso (I-At Large), Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) and Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) — said the meeting should be held in open session, particularly because it involves questions of whether an elected official has violated the public trust.
“The public deserves to know what we are hearing,” said Nadeau, who sat on a bench in a hallway outside the closed room with Grosso and White. “It perpetuates this issue of distrust from the public if we can’t even have a conversation publicly about this.”
Evans left the meeting with his attorney after about 15 minutes. He told reporters that he apologized and answered questions from one lawmaker, but he would not elaborate.
Evans, who also chairs the Metro board and is facing an ethics probe from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, said in the meeting that he would end his outside work, according to Silverman.
“My memory is that he said he would no longer have outside employment, but I didn’t take notes,” she said.
After Evans apologized to his colleagues and before he said he would answer their questions, Allen, Cheh and Todd stepped out of the room. Lawmakers earlier expressed concerns about being asked by federal investigators about a private meeting with Evans.
They returned after Evans left the room and continued talking with their colleagues behind closed doors for about another hour.
Council members, who are paid about $140,000 a year, are permitted to hold other jobs. But of the 13 lawmakers, just two — Evans and Cheh — reported significant outside income in recent required disclosure forms. Cheh is a law professor at George Washington University.
Evans, a lawyer, has worked for a series of firms that represent clients with business before the District and federal government and, since 2016, has had his own firm, NSE Consulting. In disclosure forms, Evans has reported income between $150,000 and $350,000 from the firm since 2017.
In September, a grand jury issued a subpoena to the city administrator for records related to Evans’s dealings with Digi Outdoor Media, a company that would have benefited from legislation Evans proposed.
The council planned to vote next week to reprimand Evans for violating the Code of Conduct, alleging he used government staff and email for private purposes and touted the prestige of his office for private gain.
After Evans left the room Tuesday, the lawmakers privately discussed the upcoming reprimand and the mechanics of complying with the subpoena that had been issued to the council.
“There’s concern that what this means is, we are all individually under investigation, and we’re not,” Mendelson said after emerging from the meeting. “One member asked whether this could lead to an FBI agent knocking on somebody’s door. No, this is a request for documents, that’s what this subpoena is.”
The council is split on whether Evans should face consequences beyond a reprimand, which is not considered disciplinary action.
Grosso said Evans should step aside as chair of the powerful Finance and Revenue Committee, which handles tax policyand general-obligation and industrial bonds and oversees the chief financial officer, among other things.
“The public is very concerned about what’s happening, and we can make a clear statement that Jack is not at this point in time the best person to chair the Committee on Finance and Revenue,” Grosso said.
The closure of Tuesday’s meeting appears to have taken place on ambiguous legal terrain, and questions surrounding the council’s actions are complicated by inconsistencies between the open government laws that apply to most District agencies and the rules lawmakers have adopted for themselves.
Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the good-government advocacy group Public Citizen, said Evans’s exchange with his colleagues should have taken place in open session.
“That’s a gray area where he’s renewing his apology and discussing what he’s going to do to try to comply with ethics rules, that isn’t really directly related to the legal case,” Holman said. “I don’t see any justification for doing that behind closed doors.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the Committee on Finance and Revenue handles public-private partnerships. That function is under the Committee on Government Operations. This story has been updated.
Peter Jamison contributed to this report.