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Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans has, at best, a tenuous grasp on the ethical rules that govern his job. But if you ask him, he might say he just interprets them differently. Either way, that presents a problem for the District’s longest serving legislator, a trained lawyer who recently described his approach to the ethical predicaments he is constantly putting himself in as “I’ll know it when I see it.”
At least that’s what he told the folks at O’Melveny & Myers, the law firm the D.C. Council hired to investigate Evans’ conflicts of interest related to his private consulting business and his work for lobbying firms. O’Melveny’s 97-page report, which was leaked to the Washington Post Monday night and released to the public on Tuesday afternoon, identifies at least 11 instances between 2015 and 2017 where Evans violated the Council’s Code of Official Conduct by taking actions as a councilmember to benefit the interests of firms and individuals paying him on the side.
All told, the firm found that from 2014 to the present, Evans banked roughly $400,000 “for doing little or no documented work,” for his clients, who paid him “largely for merely being available.”
“Availability pay of that magnitude even for a highly skilled government employee is ethically suspect,” the report says.
Among the examples the law firm highlighted was an August 2016 action, when Evans facilitated after-hours access to a Metro station for a digital sign company so it could install its signs after the District government ordered the company to stop. The company’s founder, Don MacCord, is currently serving time in federal prison for crimes related to his work for the company.
In other instances in 2015, Evans sought to influence support for the merger between Exelon and Pepco, who hired the lobbying firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to help them through the process. At the same time, Evans was negotiating with Manatt for a job, according to the report.
Details about Evans running interference on behalf of Pepco in support of the merger, in particular, made Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh’s blood boil, she said during a Tuesday press conference following the release of the report. Cheh is chairing the ad hoc committee responsible for making a recommendation to the full Council regarding Evans’ fate as a public official. Late Tuesday evening, she called for Evans to resign.
“These were items of great interest to me and to the people of the District of Columbia who were frustrated and maneuvered by Mr. Evans on behalf of a client of the firm for which he was working,” Cheh said.
Cheh had proposed a budget amendment dedicating funds to study the benefits of public versus private utility providers. Evans, while he was negotiating for a job with Manatt, strategized with two of the firms’ local lobbyists: former Councilmember John Ray and former deputy budget director Tina Ang, according to the law firm’s investigation. (Ang sat in the back of the room during Tuesday’s press conference.)
The three plotted to use At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds to introduce an amendment diverting funds from Cheh’s proposed study. On June 12, 2015, Ang emailed Evans’ chief of staff, Schannette Grant, saying Manatt wanted Bonds to introduce the amendment “for obvious reasons.”
“I assume [that] was meant to hide the fact that Mr. Evans was behind it,” Cheh said of the email.
Bonds agreed to introduce the amendment, it passed, and Cheh’s proposed study died.
The report also identifies two instances where Evans parroted Pepco’s script during official hearings: “Pepco is doing a good job in improving electric reliability here in the District,” Evans recited in a 2015 committee hearing. “But I believe that the improvements will be further accelerated if the merger of Pepco and Exelon is approved.”
In Evans’ 67-page response to the law firm’s report, his attorneys argue that Evans did not work for Manatt at the time of the merger and claim his support for it pre-dated his conversations about working for them. LL notes that when Evans applied, “he identified Exelon in his business plan as a potential client he might be able to bring to Manatt,” according to the investigation. Before Manatt, Evans worked at the firm Patton Boggs, where he courted Exelon as a potential client, the report says.
During Tuesday’s press conference, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson walked back his description from Monday that the report contained “good news and bad news.” The chairman called the report “damning,” and said “there’s no good news in it.”
Asked if he still trusts Evans, Mendelson paused. Cheh, standing to his side, whispered that he didn’t have to answer every question.
Finally, Mendelson stammered out a response. “I think it’s very clear at this point that in the realm, which is a very large realm, of ethical conduct, that Mr. Evans has, he has, um, obliterated the public’s trust and that would speak as well of the trust from his colleagues,” the chairman declared.
Mendelson would not call for Evans’ resignation but noted that the two discussed it two months ago.
By Tuesday’s end, a majority of the 13-member Council—Cheh, as well as Ward 1’s Brianne Nadeau, Ward 4’s Brandon Todd, Ward 6’s Charles Allen, and at-large members David Grosso, Elissa Silverman, and Robert White Jr.—had called for Evans to resign. (Ward 5’s Kenyan McDuffie and Ward 8’s Trayon White joined their colleagues in calling for Evans’ resignation on Wednesday afternoon, after this story was initially published.)
If Evans is struggling to find support among his co-workers, perhaps he can take comfort with his wealthy friends. Last week, Evans’ legal defense committee filed its first financial report, assigning a dollar amount to some individuals’ desire to keep the beleaguered lawmaker out of trouble.
Just a couple days before his 66th birthday, and about a month after Evans began accepting donations to cover his legal bills, their support amounted to $14,000. Evans has already spent almost half of it.
The report shows a $6,000 expenditure to Ankura Consulting Group LLC, an international firm with a location on K Street NW that provides legal support services. Evans’ attorney, Mark Tuohey, declined to specify the work that Ankura provided.
The 10 people who donated to Evans’ legal defense (two of whom, Franklin Wildes and Donald Dinan, are the chairman and treasurer of the legal defense committee) are those you might expect to find in the tonier parts of Ward 2: wealthy friends, developers, business types, and one former congressman. Contributions ranged from $100 to $2,000, the legal maximum.
LL spoke to some of the contributors before the Council’s damning report dropped.
Michael Kain, founder of the Dupont Circle Business Improvement District and CEO of Kain & Associates, a real estate development firm, contributed $2,000. He says Evans did not reach out to him directly, but rather he received a call from longtime D.C. politico and lobbyist Ray, who invited him to a meeting to ask for contributions. Kain declined to say who else attended the meeting in Ray’s office, but says he “wrote a check right away because I’m very grateful for all Jack has done for our community.”
“We need more councilmen that help the business community survive and get by,” Kain says. “He’s been very friendly to the business community and very friendly to the constituents on Dupont Circle.”
Barton Gordon, a Democrat who represented Tennessee’s sixth district in the House of Representatives from 1985 to 2010, tells LL he’s known Evans for about 30 years and admires his friend’s work during his 28-year tenure. The former rep contributed $200.
“There are no formal charges, as far as I know, brought against him,” Gordon says. “So I have no informed opinion as to any form of guilt, but I do know the government has a great advantage over citizens in these sorts of cases. And the taxpayers are paying their bills, and I wanted to do my part to help him with his defense funds.”
Gordon, who lives in Kalorama, adds that “there were occasions where Jack could have used better judgment,” in terms of his private business dealings, “but to me that didn’t diminish the good things he’s done for our city.”
Kay Kendall, chair of the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities, kicked in $2,000 because she believes Evans deserves due process, she says.
“I’m proud to say Jack has been my friend for 30 years,” Kendall says. “I’ve always known him to do a great job for the city. He’s always been responsive and clear about the needs of Ward 2, where I live, and he’s been a real friend to the arts community.”
Until recently, the Committee on Finance and Revenue, chaired by Evans, had oversight of the arts commission. As part of its own investigation into Evans’ private business activities, the Council picked apart the finance committee and divided up the agencies under its purview. The arts commission is now within the Committee of the Whole, chaired by Mendelson.
Kendall’s husband, Jack Davies, a partner in Monumental Sports, also gave $2,000. Monumental owns the Capitals, Mystics, Wizards, Capital One Arena, and other sports properties, and plans to take advantage of the Council’s legalization of sports gambling, a measure that Evans championed.
Davies says he got to know Evans as a friend through Kendall.
“We think it’s the least we can do in light of everything he’s done for the ward as well as for the city,” Davies says. “Everybody is entitled to due process, and we have a legal system for a reason. It’s up to the courts and the powers that be to resolve it. I’d like to make certain he has the best representation possible to get the best shot at a fair outcome.”
Herb Miller, a real estate developer who founded and runs Western Development Corporation, and his wife, Patrice, also gave $2,000 each, as did West End Citizens Association officer Barbara Kahlow. A former aide to Republican congressman Doug Ose, Kahlow is another well known Ward 2 figure, weighing in on topics from public libraries, to hospitals, to a bill on a helicopter landing pad.
“Jack is a long-time friend & I wanted to show my thanks for the incredible job he has done for DC as a whole & for my neighborhood too,” Kahlow writes to LL in an email. She did not agree to a phone interview.
The positive comments from Evans’ supporters stand in stark contrast to a myriad of voices who find his actions detestable.
Evans is facing criticism from all directions, including some of his Council colleagues, members of the local Democratic Party, Republicans in Congress, and some members of the Metro board.
Patrick Kennedy, who is challenging Evans for his Ward 2 seat, urged him to step down and “spare everyone from further embarrassment.”
Jordan Grossman, another Ward 2 candidate, said the report adds to the “mounting pile of investigations into his shameless corruption.”
But perhaps the most vocal Evans critic is activist Adam Eidinger, who is leading an effort to recall Evans from office.
Eidinger and his team of signature gatherers have collected about 4,500 signatures out of the estimated 4,900 they need to force a recall election, he writes via text while on a business trip in Jerusalem.
In the summer, Eidinger guaranteed that he could collect enough signatures as long as he could raise enough money. This week, Eidinger said the recall campaign only took in about $7,000, and most signature gatherers worked on a volunteer basis.
As the Nov. 18 deadline to submit the signatures approaches, Eidinger is sounding less confident. He recently left a voicemail for Evans looking to make a deal: If Evans agrees not to run for re-election, Eidinger would drop the recall campaign. Evans hasn’t responded, Eidinger says.
“The point here [is] we have collected more signatures in Ward 2 for the recall than anyone has collected for anything ever,” Eidinger writes. “He’s a scumbag politician who people are ready to see go.”