- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 26, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A federal investigator said Wednesday that he believes Maurice Jones, who is serving as Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade, did not knowingly break any federal laws when he helped run a federal housing agency and was ill-served by his staff.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Inspector General David A. Montoya testified before a U.S. House subcommittee. He provided details on an investigation his office conducted into emails sent on behalf of Jones last year when he was the was the second most senior official at HUD.

Jones was deputy secretary when emails were sent on his behalf to 1,000 recipients, including 46 of his own employees, asking them to contact several U.S. senators and encourage them to vote in favor of a budget bill, according to a draft copy of a report done by the inspector general’s office.

The report found that Jones violated the department’s internal policy and appeared to have violated federal anti-lobbying and personnel laws.

But Montoya said Wednesday that Jones received bad advice from his staff and did not break any rules on purpose.

“He was hoping and depending on his staff … to properly advise him. I think that’s where the failure here is,” said Montoya. “Quite frankly, we found nothing in this that would suggest to us that it was his fault, per se.”

Montoya’s comments largely echoed what Jones has said about the matter. In a written statement yesterday, Jones, the former publisher of the Virginia Pilot newspaper, said he “would never intentionally violate the laws, policies or codes of conduct that govern public officials.”

The Department of Justice has declined to open a criminal investigation into the emails. Montoya’s office also forwarded its findings to the General Accountability Office and the Office of Special Counsel, which oversees federal personnel matters.

Montoya largely singled out senior level staffer Elliot Mincberg for giving Jones poor counsel and then trying to impede the federal investigation into the emails. Mincberg did not respond to requests for comment.

News of the report led the Virginia House of Delegates to postpone a vote Tuesday on Jones‘ appointment as Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s pick for commerce secretary. The vote was postponed again Wednesday.

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