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How The Washington Post Covers for a Top D.C. Official

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Post readers can be forgiven for not knowing that this actually happened, since it unfolded largely outside the pages of the Post. And this isn't the first time the Post has downplayed Evans' questionable ethics.

Conflicted Dealmaking

Over the course of his record-breaking 27 years on the Council, the Post has largely looked the other way as Jack Evans crossed bright ethical lines with impunity.

For nearly two decades Evans has served as chair of the finance and revenue committee, where he has shepherded through deals involving several billion taxpayer dollars. While Evans claims he acts in the best interests of District residents, that's not always clear, since some of his official actions have benefited clients of the very law firms where he's worked.

Despite being a top D.C. official with sway over how the city's tax dollars are spent, Evans, like other councilmembers, is allowed to earn outside income over and above his $137,000 Council salary. It's unclear exactly what Evans does for his second salary, and Evans won't disclose who his clients are, claiming attorney-client privilege protects that information.

Evans' attempts to shroud his dealings have been aided by the Post, which has consistently failed to point out the councilman's questionable dealings.

When nuclear giant Exelon's $6.8 billion takeover of Pepco was initially blocked by D.C.'s Public Service Commission in 2015, Evans called on the PSC to reverse course (which it did). What Evans didn't tell commissioners was that he was now working for Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, the very firm representing both Pepco and Exelon. Post readers have yet to be informed of this conflict of interest.

In 2009, when Marriott sought public funding to build an 1,167-room hotel next to the Convention Center, Evans was strongly in favor. At least until the one public hearing on the deal, which Evans co-chaired. At it, civic leader Dave Mallof and I asked Evans if he had a conflict of interest through his firm, lobby powerhouse Patton Boggs. (For over a decade, through 2015, Evans worked for Patton Boggs, which paid him a $190,000 annual salary.) While Evans didn't respond to our questions about a conflict of interest, two days later he started recusing himself from voting on the deal. Evans claimed he was doing so only out of an "abundance of caution," but there was more to it. It turned out that Patton Boggs represented ING, a major financing partner in the deal -- a deal made sweeter thanks to $272 million in public funds approved by the Council. While D.C. law requires councilmembers to file a written explanation for their recusals, Evans never did. When independent journalist John Hanrahan pointed this out, Evans responded by calling the former Post reporter "a f---ing idiot."

Evans was much nicer to the principals in the Marriott hotel deal, which in 2010 became ensnared in a lawsuit brought by mega-developer JBG. Evans -- despite having recused himself from the matter -- brought the warring parties together. Rather than call out Evans' conflict of interest, the Post instead highlighted his mediation efforts, writing, "Behind the scenes, D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) is trying to get the parties to resolve their dispute." Evans' efforts paid off at a July 2010 closed-door meeting at city offices, where Evans, then-Attorney General Peter Nickles and executives from Marriott and JBG reached an agreement; one which ING, a client of Evans' firm, stood to benefit from. Evans' conflict of interest in this matter, which involved over a quarter billion in taxpayer dollars, was reported on in a single Post story (online only, not in print).

The Post let Evans off the hook again in 2010 when he offered upwards of $25 million in public subsidies to defense contractor Northrop Grumman, which was looking to move its headquarters to the D.C. area. "Whatever someone else puts down we're going to match it and we're going to beat it," Evans declared, thereby encouraging a bidding war among neighboring jurisdictions. The Post reported on the jurisdictional jockeying but failed to mention that Northrop Grumman was a client of the Breaux-Lott Leadership Group, which had formed a "strategic relationship" with Patton Boggs, Evans' firm. (Patton Boggs -- now Squire Patton Boggs -- subsequently bought Breaux-Lott.) "For a legislator to promote legislation that would benefit his own firm's client, or the client of a closely-related firm, is the very essence of conflict of interest, as well as a possible violation of D.C. law," wrote John Hanrahan, who broke this story. Northrop Grumman ended up in Falls Church, Va., possibly with a sweeter deal thanks to Evans.

In 2004, when Evans voted to award a tax break to CareFirst, he did so without disclosing that the health care company was a client of his firm, Patton Boggs. What's more, Evans failed to disclose that Patton Boggs listed him as personally lobbying Congress on CareFirst's behalf, The Washington Times'Jim McElhatton reported, citing federal and city records. But Patton Boggs brushed the report aside, saying Evans hadn't lobbied for CareFirst, it was just "a simple mistake" the firm made in their filings.

The Post didn't follow up on the Times' story, but what if it had? "You do have to wonder, what if the Post had gotten on the story a decade ago, would Jack have even thought of doing what he did here [with Digi Media]?" asked McElhatton, the former Times reporter. "I don't think so."

While none of this dealmaking, which the Post largely ignored, led to disciplinary action against Evans, a 2005 story did. In a rare hard-hitting piece on Evans, the Post reported that the councilman was using his political action committee, Jack PAC, as a personal piggy bank, reimbursing himself for thousands of dollars in meals, flights and tons of sports tickets. The Office of Campaign Finance found that Evans broke no laws, but recommended he repay Jack PAC $6,772.72; which Evans did, before shutting down the PAC.

Having aggressively reported on Evans, the Post quickly reverted to form -- and so did Evans. In the years since, the councilman has continued to support, and even steer public funds to projects in which he has a personal interest.

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