Please don’t refer to that bunch stashed in the John A. Wilson Building as the “D.C. Council.” Call it what it has become: the D.C. Club.
What passes for a legislative body today is little more than a collection of elected sociables drawn together by what they have in common: free parking spaces; possible invites to freebie breakfasts, lunches and dinners; taxpayer-provided offices; obsequious staff; and individually assigned perches up on a dais, where they get the chance to look down on the unwashed below.
Topping it off, each club member gets a six-figure salary along with authority to create what is called a constituent services fund. Club members are authorized to solicit and collect contributions to the fund from just about any source, and to spend up to $60,000 a year on a list of activities including food, refreshments, community events and “necessities of life.”
In light of all that, and given the club’s current composition, why are some folks getting all hot and bothered by the votes of club chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and eight of his fellow clubbies to shut out the public and media, and allow one of their number, Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), the subject of a federal investigation, to have a cozy chat with them about how he landed where he is and reportedly why he’s not going to do anymore what he shouldn’t have been doing in the first place?
For the record, the council has been served a subpoena demanding that council members preserve a wide range of documents and communications related to Evans and his private legal and consulting clients.
Mendelson et al. apparently put their interest in preserving and protecting their buddy-buddy relationship with Evans above the public’s right to know. So this week, they agreed to give him a private audience.
It should be noted that three members couldn’t stomach the idea of slamming the door in the public’s face. Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), David Grosso (I-At Large) and Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) elected instead to sit out Mendelson’s closed meeting on a bench in a hallway. And Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) was absent because of a new baby but tweeted that the meeting should not have been closed.
That Evans wanted to meet with his friends behind closed doors is quite understandable — from his point of view. He had just gotten nailed by The Post and the District Dig for using his government email account to solicit business from law firms for his private consulting firm.
That is the kind of no-no that even comrades-in-arms can’t ignore. Mendelson had to do something. He did the least he could, short of sitting on his hands. Mendelson has recommended that the club (excuse me, council) reprimand Evans for pimping his public office for private gain.
Evans wanted to ’splain himself in secret before his colleagues cast a public vote, probably next week.
That, of course, may be the least of Evans’s problems.
His relationship with Donald E. MacCord, the founder and chief executive of a sign company called Digi Outdoor Media, is the focus of federal interest. There’s something about Evans’s consulting firm receiving 200,000 shares in Digi just before he promoted legislation that would have benefited Digi as it tried to enter the D.C. market that has drawn the feds’ close attention.
It probably doesn’t help matters to learn that on Dec. 4, 2017, MacCord and Shannon Doyle, Digi’s chief financial officer, were arrested by the FBI for their roles in an alleged conspiracy and fraud scheme related to Digi, and that some of their alleged misdeeds took place during the time Evans was pushing legislation that would have benefited Digi Outdoor Media.
Doyle entered into a plea agreement in their federal case in Northern California in November and is awaiting sentencing. Evans is probably casting an eye westward to see what may be revealed; that’s what I would be doing in his situation.
I also would be paying close attention to the information that some of my subpoenaed clients might be providing to federal prosecutors here at home.
According to Washington City Paper, at least three of Evans’s private clients received subpoenas asking for details of what Evans did for them.
A lawyer for one of Evans’s subpoenaed clients told me he had asked the client what Evans had done for the client and was told that Evans didn’t do anything — the client just provided money to Evans’s firm because he was a “good guy” whom the client wanted to help.
Should that turn out to be the case with Evans’s other subpoenaed clients, the District’s longest-serving lawmaker could find himself in the tightest of tight spots.
Calls for action against Evans include demanding that he resign from the council, loss of his chairmanship of the powerful Finance and Revenue Committee, and a vote to recall him from office.
The most serious and immediate call, however, is the U.S. attorney’s request that Evans present himself for an interview next week, according to a well-placed source. Whether Evans will show up is unknown.
This much is true: Evans’s meeting with the feds, should it occur, won’t be much like his private, closed-door, intimate affair with the club this week.
Read more from Colbert King’s archive.