“That’s a question I can’t answer,” Evans replied.
In 800 pages of transcripted interviews with lawyers hired by the council, Evans emerges as a man who relied on a clique of business executives — virtually all of them his friends — to pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars for consulting work that he often could not explain or describe.
Evans kept his client list secret — a violation of the council’s ethics code, according to O’Melveny & Myers, the firm retained by the council to examine his business dealings. And time after time, he used his influence as the council’s longest-serving member to benefit his clients and violated the District’s ethics rules, the investigators concluded.
Angry and defensive at moments, and boastful at others, Evans in more than 10 hours of interviews in September recounted his evolution as a politician and a lawyer, detailed how he went from a law firm to starting his own consulting business, and explained his approach to potential conflicts of interest.
“I’ll know it when I see it,” Evans said, repeating former U.S. Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart’s quote about obscenity.
O’Melveny & Myers attorneys concluded that Evans had a “generally casual attitude toward the ethical responsibilities of a public official.” They cited 11 instances in the past five years when Evans breached council ethics rules by acting “in his official capacity” in matters in which his “outside employers or personal clients had direct financial interests.”
Evans’s lawyers, Abbe Lowell and Mark Tuohey, say that the investigators unfairly portrayed the lawmaker as “cavalier and careless” regarding ethics. They said the report disregarded a portion of Evans’s testimony in which he gave a more detailed account of his approach and offered examples of occasions when he took steps to avoid a conflict of interest.
At various points, when investigators asked Evans to cite specific work he performed for his clients through his one-man consulting firm, NSE, the council member described himself as an on-call adviser.
“I was on a retainer basis,” he said of his work for EagleBank. The bank’s chief executive, Ron Paul, is a longtime friend who Evans said encouraged him to create a consulting business in 2016 after the council member asked whether Paul would hire him at the bank.
“That’s how we set it up,” Evans said. “So I was available to do what they needed me to do when they contacted me, if they ever did.”
O’Melveny & Myers, in its report, found that Evans “could not identify any NSE services he provided” EagleBank and RDP, another entity owned by Paul, each of which ultimately paid the council member $50,000 annually.
Describing his $25,000-a-year consulting agreement with Squash on Fire, a company owned by Anthony Lanier, a developer and another longtime friend, Evans said his focus was to help organize a “World Cup” squash championship in the District.
Lanier’s company thought the council member could be “helpful” in stirring interest in the tournament “since I am a squash player and a well-known personality in the region,” Evans said.
His work included participating in regular conference calls about finding sponsors and a site, Evans told investigators. David Leviss, an O’Melveny attorney, asked whether he provided other services.
“I went down and played squash,” Evans replied. “So I was going to be part of this tournament in a way, but I don’t know the role I would play.”
Recounting his tenure at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, the firm that paid him $60,000 a year beginning in 2015, Evans said it was “impossible for me to quantify” the time he spent working for the law firm. “It’s whatever is necessary is the best way to describe it,” he said.
Evans said their relationship ended after two years.
“It didn’t work out the way they had hoped it would,” he said, surmising that the firm expected “maybe I’d bring in more business or I’d have more to do.”
Accompanied by Lowell and Tuohey, Evans told the investigators that many of the 900 emails he receives daily are from constituents needing assistance, and he portrayed himself as someone who relied on a friend and his council staff to perform basic tasks such as filing paperwork to establish his consulting company. His chief of staff typed his invoices for his private clients, he told them.
“I’m a hunt-and-peck guy,” he said of his limited skills at a keyboard. “I rarely generate an email to anybody. I mean, I can hit the reply button and then kind of do it, but, no, beyond that, I don’t do that. I use the phone. But it’s becoming a dying breed.”
The council member complained about the media, fuming about reporters calling up his friends and business associates and that a confidential report about a similar ethics investigation into his tenure as Metro board chair “ended up on the front page of The Washington Post.”
“I don’t trust anybody anymore to be fair,” Evans said.
In one case, he blamed someone else for crafting the job pitch that Evans sent from his government email address to the Nelson Mullins law firm, in which he offered to engage in “cross-marketing my relationships and influence” to help the firm’s clients.
“I don’t know how I read this thing and let that word in there,” Evans said of the use of “influence,” adding that the plan had been rewritten by Rob Hawkins, a Nelson Mullins lawyer and former aide to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D).
“I have to own it because it’s my document,” Evans told investigators. “But I was as horrified as anyone when I read this thing after the fact.”
Nelson Mullins did not hire him.
Elected in 1991 to represent a ward that includes downtown, Georgetown and the neighborhoods of Dupont and Logan circles, Evans twice ran for mayor and lost. A ubiquitous presence at community meetings and charity galas, he is a glad-handing raconteur who displays his vast network of donors and allies in framed grip-and-grin photos that cover his office walls.
“Hillary Clinton is a longtime personal friend of mine,” he told the investigators when asked about his fundraising for her 2016 presidential campaign. “She and Bill Clinton.”
At one point, he turned the interview into an opportunity to recount the District’s evolution from fiscal ruin to economic power, a narrative in which he placed himself at the center of its comeback. He touted himself as among the “Young Turks” on the council who fought to curb the government’s propensity for “spending money that we didn’t have.”
“They have come and gone, I’m still here,” he said of his former colleagues, before adding that he and former mayor Anthony Williams — “Tony,” as he refers to him — “sat down and figured out how do we save Washington.”
His monologues about championing the arts — “I’m the arts guy,” “I’m the film guy,” “I’m a TV guy,” he pronounced before the interviews were over — went on long enough that his attorney at one point had to remind him to answer a question about a tax bill.
“Oh, yeah. Okay,” Evans said.
Inevitably, the investigators returned their focus to the tasks Evans performed for his clients.
Evans said he met one client, Steve Fischer of Fischer Holdings, in person only once and couldn’t specify why the executive paid him $25,000.
“Do you remember the substance of any of those phone conversations?” Steve Bunnell, an O’Melveny & Myers attorney, asked Evans, referring to his contacts with Fischer.
“Unfortunately, I don’t,” Evans said. “I just maybe talked to him, you know, ‘What’s going on’ type of thing in the region, et cetera.” Asked how many times they spoke, Evans said, “A couple. You know, whatever that means. One, two, three, four, five, something like that. So it was more than one, less than five, probably.”
“Ten, 15 minutes or longer?” Bunnell asked, referring to the calls’ duration.
“I don’t know, Steve,” Evans replied.
His consulting agreement ended after one year, perhaps because Fischer “may have called and said, ‘Not much happened this year, so we’re not going to go forward for another year,’ ” he said.
Another client, Willco Construction, asked Evans for “help” on several matters, including finding out whether the District planned to renew a lease for a property owned by the company to park buses.
“I’ll get back to you,” Evans replied in an email to a Willco executive before making inquiries to a high-ranking mayoral adviser. The council member later wrote back to the Willco executive that the District planned to renew its lease.
“This is great – thank you very much, Jack. Big help!” the executive replied in an email to Evans that O’Melveny & Myers included in the report.
Bunnell asked Evans whether, during his exchange with the Willco executive, “you think of yourself as acting as a consultant to Willco or did you think of yourself as acting as a council member?”
“Council member,” Evans replied, adding that he regarded the request as a constituent’s concern.
But Evans acknowledged that he doesn’t personally respond to most constituent concerns, leading Bunnell to ask what caused him to “prioritize it.”
“Did it have anything to do with the fact that Willco is a paid client?” he asked.
“The answer would be no,” Evans said, adding that he had responded to calls from Willco executives before they became clients.
But O’Melveny & Myers concluded that Evans’s conduct was improper in this instance because he “had a financial interest in addressing these requests, as his assistance advanced the financial and business interests (and satisfaction) of his client.”
In the interviews, Evans recalled that in his early years on the council, most lawmakers had outside income. Now, he said he’s the only council member “who has ever had a job that wasn’t in the government or in a nonprofit.”
“I think that is not a good perspective,” he said.
Asked whether he would pursue outside consulting or legal work in the future, Evans said, “Never again.”