Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly stated that D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) had given a deposition in a federal lawsuit involving the D.C. lottery contract. Graham, citing the advice of counsel, has not given such a deposition; the column that follows has been corrected.
D.C. Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby’s report on the city chief financial officer’s award of the D.C. lottery contract covered some ground. But it also left unfinished a piece of business that requires urgent resolution: the role played by D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) in the award of the contract.
The inspector general, responding to a request for investigation from the chairman of the D.C. Council’s finance committee, Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), delved into the circumstances surrounding the adoption of the lottery contract and a new online gambling game. We now know more about what happened — and what failed to occur — in the contract approval process. We also have a better understanding of the capability, or lack thereof, of the contractor that secured the bid.
But less clear, and in a way more unsettling, is Graham’s conduct in this affair. Until we have a better understanding of what he said or did not say in a 2008 meeting with lobbyists and representatives of a lottery contract bidder, there’s no way to turn the page on this chapter in the scuzzy life of the D.C. government.
To recall, Willoughby reported receiving allegations that an unnamed council member — reported to be Graham — offered to drop his opposition to one of the bidders on the lottery contract if a member of that bidder’s group withdrew from a separate real estate deal with Metro. If true, the inspector general wrote, such conduct by a council member could “give the appearance that he lost complete independence or impartiality, and may have affected adversely the confidence of the public in the integrity of government.” The report said, however, that the IG had insufficient evidence that the council member had acted improperly.
A series of e-mails obtained by The Post’s editorial board suggest reasons to be concerned about possible misconduct. The e-mails show, as The Post stated in one editorial, that the lottery seekers who met with Graham on May 29, 2008, “were concerned about what they viewed as an inappropriate, if not illegal, demand from Mr. Graham.”
Graham has said that he has “no recollection of anything like this occurring.” He also told The Post that he did not intervene in the lottery contract award process as alleged in the IG’s report.
Graham’s declaration notwithstanding, the situation cannot be left at that. The implications in the e-mails are serious.
The council’s code of conduct says that a member cannot use the government’s power for a private purpose, nor show partiality or give preferential treatment in the performance of his or her duties. Above all, council members are not to act in ways that adversely affect public confidence in the integrity of government.
The code of conduct also instructs council members to report “immediately” to the inspector general any information concerning conduct that he or she knows, or should know, involving corrupt or other criminal activity or conflicts of interest by another council member.
Apparently, no council member is sufficiently concerned about the allegations to request an investigation.
I called Willoughby’s office three times this week; no calls were returned. Willoughby believes that he has gone as far as he can with his investigation, a senior government official told me on Thursday.
But is that so? Have all of the participants in the May 29 meeting been formally interviewed under oath? Certainly not Graham, who refused to be interviewed by the Office of the Inspector General.
On Thursday, I asked Graham about his refusal and he wrote via e-mail:
“Under advice of counsel — the Council’s General Counsel again stated —
“ ‘I write to follow up to our earlier conversation. As you know, the matter regarding your deposition is pending before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Until that matter is resolved, I would avoid public communications about the process regarding the Council’s consideration of the contract.
“ ‘Regards, V. David Zvenyach.’ ”
In the end, Graham did not give a deposition in a federal lawsuit, citing the advise of counsel; the lawsuit had been brought against the chief financial officer’s office by a former contract officer who says he was fired for resisting political pressure on the lottery contract. So I asked Graham: “Public communications” also include responding to the inspector general in connection with an official investigation?
His e-mail response: “This issue was specifically discussed with Mr. Zvenyach and personally with the IG. I did what I was advised to do.”
Give me a break.
From a Post editorial regarding Graham’s e-mails: “On June 2, Graham wrote back: ‘Thanks. Do you think they will do anything?’ [The lobbyist] responded, ‘Yes. Wheels are in motion. Everyone took your concerns seriously.’ ”
This from the Justice Department’s primer on bid-rigging schemes: “Bid Suppression. In bid suppression schemes, one or more competitors who otherwise would be expected to bid, or who have previously bid, agree to refrain from bidding or withdraw a previously submitted bid so that the designated winning competitor’s bid will be accepted.”
The guts-challenged D.C. inspector general has taken flight. We need a probe by a real champion of public integrity, namely the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.