ROCKVILLE – Two members of a U.S. House of Representatives committee wrote a letter on July 16 to the chairman of Metro’s Board of Directors, requesting documents about the ethics committee’s investigation of ex-board member Jack Evans.
“The apparent lack of documentation about the investigation raises questions about whether this effort was a genuine one, or simply a whitewash,” wrote Committee on Oversight and Reform ranking member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Subcommittee on Government Operations ranking member Mark Meadows (R-NC).
The representatives wrote that they want more information about the committee investigation of Washington, D.C. Councilmember Evans (D-2) and his conduct. Evans is also under criminal investigation by the U.S Department of Justice.
“Among other accusations, Evans allegedly exploited his position on the WMATA Board and the D.C. Council to advance the interests of his personal clients at the expense of District of Columbia (D.C.), Maryland, and Virginia taxpayers,” wrote Meadows and Jordan, citing a letter about the findings from then-Ethics Committee Chairman Clarence Crawford. “We write to request more information about the conduct of former Chair Evans, who had said that D.C. has ‘pulled (its) act together’ and is ready to become a state.”
The Committee on Oversight and Reform performs oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) “and its operations as an intergovernmental compact between Maryland,Virginia and D.C., and the municipal affairs of D.C. generally,” according to Meadows and Jordan’s letter.
The two representatives wanted Board Chairman Paul Smedberg to “help us understand the nature, scope and conclusions of the ethics committee’s investigation into Evans’ conduct” by providing information.
Ethics committee member David Horner, who represents the federal government, said after Evans’ final board meeting on June 27, he believed the lack of written minutes of the ethics committee meetings during the investigation of Evans made deciding if ethics code violations had occurred challenging.
Jordan and Meadows requested any documents and communication about the committee’s investigation of Evans, including “any findings, memoranda, records, interviews (including interview transcripts, interview summaries, or memoranda of interviews), supporting materials, and underlying evidence” and “all documents and communications” referring to or regarding the WMATA Board’s ethics committee’s “decision not to produce written findings other than the letter from the committee chair (Crawford) dated June 17, 2019.”
Prior to the committee and subcommittee ranking members’ request for documents, the Federal Bureau of Investigation searched Evans’ Georgetown home. Meanwhile, a grand jury subpoenaed two board members who were on the ethics committee – which helped conduct the investigation of Evans – and the Board of Directors indemnified a board member and a former board member for attorneys’ fees in responding to the subpoena.
Crawford and Board member Horner informed the WMATA board in separate memoranda on July 11 that they had received grand jury subpoenas for the criminal investigation of Evans and asked to be indemnified by the Metro Board.
“I have received a grand jury subpoena to testify as a witness and to produce documents in connection with the criminal investigation of Mr. Jack Evans by the U.S. Department of Justice,” Horner and Crawford each wrote. “The subpoena appears to relate to my recent service on the Board Ethics Committee and the Ethics Committee’s investigation of whether Mr. Evans violated the Board Code of Ethics and the WMATA Compact.”
Both requested indemnification for “reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses.” In addition, Horner requested permission to hire his own counsel. The board voted to approve the motion during its special board meeting July 11. Smedberg recused himself from the vote, given that it pertained to the ethics committee investigation, of which he was a part.
The two congressmen requested to receive the materials by 5 p.m. on July 30 and as soon as possible. They sent a copy of the letter to both the chairman of the committee Elijah Cummings (D-7) and the chairman of the subcommittee Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), respectively.
“I have long supported bringing transparency and accountability to the Jack Evans ethics inquiry,” said Connolly 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.”
An email request for comment from chairman Smedberg was not answered before deadline.
Evans had announced during a board meeting that he planned not to run for re-election by the board as chairman. Originally, he had planned to remain on the board. However, after the board ethics committee chairman Crawford reported that the committee determined Evans had violated the code of ethics due to not reporting a conflict of interest, and resulting criticism from public figures such as Connolly, he announced he would be resigning from the board.
The ethics committee retained external counsel, recommended by WMATA general counsel, for the investigation.
Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn was sworn in as a voting board member representing Maryland, replacing Crawford, on July 11, after the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation ordering that the transportation secretary to become one of the voting Maryland board members. Before his swearing in, Rahn wrote in a letter to the board that the state was withholding state funding of the agency, citing concerns about the oversight of spending dedicated funding.
Rahn wrote that until Metro creates that oversight, Maryland would withhold $55 million in capital dollars from the transit agency.
A spokesperson for Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) said on July 22 that MDOT had no updates on its request for improved oversight.