- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Congress injected itself for the first time into the mushrooming ethics scandal involving Jack Evans, hinting that the problems facing the city council’s longest-serving member call into question Washington, D.C.’s readiness for statehood.

On Tuesday, two top Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee said they were requesting documents from an investigation conducted by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Mr. Evans served as chairman of the Metro board before he was forced to resign last month.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the powerful committee, and Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the oversight panel’s government operations subcommittee, sent a letter Tuesday to Paul Smedberg, who replaced Mr. Evans as Metro chairman, requesting all “documents and communications” related to the Evans ethics investigation conducted for the Metro board and released last month.

Mr. Evans, a Democrat who has represented Ward 2 since 1991, has been at the center of an ethical storm. He is accused of using his position as the Metro board chairman and a D.C. Council member to benefit the clients of his consulting firm. A grand jury is reportedly investigating suspected ethics violations linked to Mr. Evans and his private business clients.

Mr. Evans did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday on the congressional request. Metro, which was given until July 30 to meet the lawmakers’ request, did not return calls for comment by deadline.

The Metro board faced criticism for a lack of transparency with its investigation and failure to document the proceedings against Mr. Evans. Mr. Jordan and Mr. Meadows cited what they said were unexplained discrepancies in how the Metro board dealt with reports of Mr. Evans‘ ethical lapses.

SEE ALSO: Key House Republicans seek records in Jack Evans ethics probe

“WMATA officials have said that a report documenting the probe and the evidence collected ‘does not exist,’” the congressmen said in the letter, which was obtained from the House oversight committee. “The apparent lack of documentation about the investigation raises questions about whether this effort was a genuine one or simply a whitewash.”

Mr. Jordan and Mr. Meadow asked that the information be provided no later than 5 p.m. on July 30. The lawmakers sent a copy of their letter to committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat.

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, the Virginia Democrat who chairs the government operations subcommittee, offered at least tacit support of the letter from the Republican lawmakers.

“I have long supported bringing transparency and accountability to the Jack Evans ethics inquiry,” Mr. Connolly said in a statement. “I look forward to our subcommittee holding a hearing on Metro in September, and working with Mr. Jordan and Mr. Meadows as well as Chairman Cummings on that hearing.”

Congress weighs in

Capitol Hill staffers said the letter was the first move by Congress to insert itself into the controversy swirling around Mr. Evans. The Republican lawmakers noted that the oversight committee has jurisdiction over Metro because the transit system operates under an intergovernmental compact among Maryland, Virginia and the District and has oversight responsibilities for the District of Columbia.

In addition to the investigation questions, the letter noted that Mr. Evans had argued that the District is ready to become a state and has “pulled [its] act together.”

“It is hard to say where this inquiry may lead as it relates to D.C. statehood,” said a Republican spokesperson for the committee. “We are still fact-finding, but [we] should have all the facts about council member Evans‘ misconduct before the committee takes any action on any proposed legislation.”

D.C. statehood advocates argued that the problems affecting one of the city’s most visible and longest-serving officials should not affect the fight for voting rights and equal treatment for city residents.

“The alleged misconduct by one member of the local jurisdiction has no bearing on whether D.C. residents deserve statehood,” said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting congressional representative.

A recent Gallup poll found that 64% of Americans, including a majority of Democrats and liberals, oppose D.C. statehood.

The letter from Mr. Meadows and Mr. Jordan focused on apparent discrepancies in how officials characterized the investigation and its work product.

The law firm that Metro hired to conduct the investigation found Mr. Evans had committed several ethics violations. But Metro’s ethics committee voted to find Mr. Evans guilty of just a single ethical lapse: failure to disclose his business relationship with Colonial Parking when he voted to oust a competitor from a contract for Metro parking services.

Metro officials have reportedly given contradictory accounts of how many other records and documents related to Mr. Evans‘ conduct were produced in the investigation.

The D.C. Council last week voted to strip Mr. Evans of his chairmanship of the powerful Committee on Finance and Revenue and to initiate an investigation of its own into whether Mr. Evans used his position for personal gain. He remains a member of the council.

In the past several weeks, Mr. Evans‘ home was raided by the FBI, he resigned from the Metro board, his colleagues called for his resignation and an effort to recall him was initiated.

The recall effort has collected about a third of the necessary signatures to trigger a vote.

At the front of the recall effort is activist Adam Eidinger, who led a campaign to decriminalize marijuana via the initiative process.

“I am willing to bet he will be indicted in a week or so,” Mr. Eidinger said. “The recall is just an insurance policy.”

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