D.C. Council member Jack Evans on Tuesday tried to save his committee chairmanship and dispel his colleagues’ concerns about a blistering ethics probe. But lawmakers stood by plans to discipline him, and some said Evans made matters worse.
Evans (D-Ward 2) said the council should not punish him before the conclusion of ongoing investigations. The FBI recently searched his home, and Evans resigned from the Metro board after the disclosure of an investigative report that found evidence he committed ethics violations at the transit agency, where he had served as chairman.
“I simply ask for a pause to slow this rush to judgment until all the facts are known and my side is heard,” said Evans, the District’s longest-serving council member. “When all is reviewed and known, you will see my actions — while not becoming — are far from that which has been reported or suggested.”
Evans, a fixture of city politics since his 1991 election and an ally to the business community for decades, has been under scrutiny for his private consulting work for several prominent companies with interests before the D.C. government.
But none of his colleagues appeared swayed by his arguments Tuesday. Some left the meeting early because Evans was not under oath, while others objected to his refusal to answer questions about potential conflicts of interest he had as a council member.
“I did not see answers that calmed the members, and I understand why there were answers that were not provided, but that’s certainly not calming,” Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said after the meeting. “What’s most troubling to me is the distrust has grown.”
Mendelson still plans to hold a vote next week to remove Evans as chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue and to hire an outside law firm to investigate him. After Tuesday’s meeting, a majority of the council supports ousting Evans from committee leadership.
“His goal obviously was to get people not to take a vote in the negative on his chairing the committee. . . . It’s hard to see how he helped that purpose,” said council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7). “I don’t think there were a lot of people that were convinced when they walked out of there.”
Evans, a lawyer, has worked for several local law firms while serving on the D.C. Council. He formed the consulting firm NSE in 2016, and his clients have included companies with business before the council and the Metro board. He also used his position on both bodies to solicit jobs with big D.C. law firms, according to emails and documents.
Evans focused his comments Tuesday on a 20-page confidential report from a law firm retained by Metro that concluded he displayed a pattern of breaking ethics rules to help friends and clients rather than serve the interests of the transit agency.
Several lawmakers who want to penalize Evans cited that report and Evans’s misrepresentations of the ethics probe.
Evans dismissed many of the firm’s findings, arguing that most of his consulting clients did not have business with Metro and that he took no action to benefit them.
“The report has created a smokescreen where there is no fire,” Evans said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Since the fall, a federal grand jury has issued several subpoenas to governmental bodies seeking documents about Evans and his clients. Investigators searched his home in Georgetown last month.
On Tuesday, Evans revealed new details about the federal probe. He said he met with the U.S. attorney’s office to answer questions about six months ago. He also said federal investigators searching his home wanted to see his mobile phones, his iPad and his children’s computer, as well as his copies of the law firm’s ethics report for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
“The media showed agents carrying out many boxes. What an impression that has left. Except the reality is that those boxes were almost entirely empty,” Evans said.
Evans has not been charged with a crime, and federal authorities have not said what they were searching for.
Evans has also retained prominent white-collar defense attorney Abbe Lowell, who appeared in city hall on Tuesday.
Mendelson convened Tuesday’s meeting at Evans’s request to share his side of the story before his colleagues could discipline him.
The meeting was open to reporters but held in a small conference room closed to the public and not live-streamed by the council like other public meetings. Council staff turned away an elected neighborhood commissioner and an activist spearheading a recall effort against Evans.
Council members Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) left the meeting early because Evans was not under oath.
The council in March reprimanded Evans and stripped him of some powers after The Washington Post obtained emails showing that he used his office’s government accounts to solicit employment from law firms. Among other things, Evans touted his ability to attract private clients as a lawmaker and as Metro board chairman.
Evans said Tuesday that he was “embarrassed” by the language but that he ultimately did not land the job.
“In the firm’s and my eagerness to create a reason for the hire, the language became too embellished,” Evans said. “No such plan was finalized, no such employment occurred, and no activity described ever happened.”
The revelation of the emails prompted the Metro board to hire a law firm to investigate Evans.
The firm’s report was not released to the public at first, and Evans, his attorney and Corbett Price, the District’s other principal representative to the Metro board, all falsely said the Metro ethics committee found no ethics violations.
The Metro ethics committee was divided on how to respond but ultimately agreed to cite Evans for one violation: that he failed to disclose a conflict of interest when he tried to oust LAZ Parking from Metro contracts without revealing he was paid $50,000 a year by Colonial Parking, one of its competitors. Evans’s relationship with Colonial Parking was first reported by the District Dig website.
Evans said he had no conflict of interest because he had legitimate concerns about LAZ Parking and “Colonial never sought any business from WMATA while I was there, so there was nothing from Colonial to recuse myself from.”
Evans said he mistakenly said the ethics committee found no violations because he believed he “cured the violation” by updating an earlier financial disclosure form.
Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) on Tuesday also cited documents showing Metro ethics officer Philip Staub wrote Evans repeatedly from 2015 to 2018 urging him to disclose more information about his business dealings and stressing the need to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Evans replied that Staub signed off on his disclosures as complete. But Staub does not approve disclosure forms — he only advises board members on potential omissions.
Several lawmakers tried to question Evans about other actions he took as a council member that could have affected his paying clients. He repeatedly declined to answer them, saying he instead wanted to stick to responding to the publicized Metro ethics probe.
“I don’t have confidence that he’s acting purely in the public interest,” said council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3).
Evans also faces a potential recall vote and a host of primary challengers in next year’s election.
Steve Thompson and Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.