Whether federal prosecutors, on the other hand, want Evans seated at the defendant’s table or simply out of their sight cannot be immediately determined. Given the FBI search of Evans’s home and the federal grand jury subpoenas seeking documents from him and his consulting clients, it’s fair to conclude that the council’s longest-serving member is of keen interest to the Justice Department.
In response to my inquiry about the Evans case status, Kadia Koroma, public information officer in the U.S. attorney’s office, emailed, “Per DOJ policy we generally do not confirm the existence of or comment on ongoing investigations.”
Evans, for his part, maintains that he has done nothing wrong. To be sure, a separate investigation by a law firm hired by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority found that during Evans’s tenure as Metro board chairman, he violated the board’s ethics code by failing to disclose a conflict of interest. And yes, caught by Metro, Evans did agree not to seek reelection as chairman and stepped down from the board.
’Tis also true that the city’s ethics agency fined him $20,000 for hustling his influence as a council member and using his government email while seeking work at local law firms.
And now staring him in the face is that report from O’Melveny & Myers, the law firm hired by the D.C. Council — which in 97 pages cites 11 instances of his violating ethics rules by taking action that helped his employers or clients, who paid him more than $400,000.
In a letter to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) this week, lawyers for Evans contend that the report did not find that any of Evans’s official actions were linked to “any financial gain” or that “he sold his office, nor that he had any intention to circumvent the rules.” They slammed the report as “one-sided” and complained that it had been “improperly leaked . . . to the media . . . with malice and with the intent to poison the well of public opinion” in order to force Evans’s resignation or pressure the “Council to expel Mr. Evans without any further consideration.” They asked for a “fair process” and a forum for Evans to explain his actions.
In a letter of her own, Cheh, the council’s designated chair of the “Ad Hoc Committee in the Matter of Councilmember Jack Evans,” shot back that the lawyers’ concern is “misplaced.” Evans, she said, has been given due process and is invited to meet with the committee in a public hearing to explain himself, especially if the committee chooses to consider recommendations for sanctions. Cheh, noted for her directness, told Evans’s lawyers, “Cloaking your public relations campaign in legal jargon does nothing to advance your defense.”
Thus, a taste of what’s to come when Evans and the council meet for an exchange of views.
Hopefully, the council hearing will not be inartfully conducted with extravagant displays of feigned indignation by council members comfortably seated at their raised platform. Nine of 13 members have already called for his resignation. Evans deserves an opportunity to be heard if and when the reported violations are aired and examined. Disciplinary action must be on the table.
Based on what’s known, censure of Evans is the least the council should do. Expulsion, however, would subject voters in Ward 2 to the same injustice imposed by Congress on the District: a denial of voting representation in an institution where laws are made.
Evans should lose the privilege of engaging in council business, and stripping him of all committee assignments would achieve that end.
Should he choose to remain in office, Ward 2 voters can decide that question either by the ongoing recall effort or a vote in next June’s Democratic primary.
Which brings up the role of the U.S. attorney.
The federal probe of Evans is wedged between District voters and the ballot box. That’s not where the government belongs. Any unresolved federal presence has a chilling effect on campaign workers, donors and voters, and it’s more damaging the longer it goes on.
Yes, the feds should fairly and impartially pursue possible criminal wrongdoing. But there must be no foot-dragging on Jack Evans. Voters have a right and need to know what, if anything, is coming next. Evans, no doubt, also wants to know where he will be seated.