D.C. to disclose next move on Councilman Jim Graham probe

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

The D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability will hold a status hearing next week about its preliminary investigation into Councilman Jim Graham's conduct as a member of Metro's board.

Ethics Board Chairman Robert Spagnoletti said his panel would disclose on Jan. 18 whether it has decided to open a formal probe, dismiss the investigation or continue its preliminary review.

"I can't say what we're going to do next Friday because I can't guarantee anything, but what I can say is that we will at least tell you what's happened: whether it's in this stage, has been dismissed or whether we're going to make it a formal investigation," Spagnoletti told The Washington Examiner. "It will be a status update."

Graham, who has vigorously and repeatedly denied wrongdoing, first drew attention for allegedly trying to link his support of a bid for a Metro development deal to his vote on the city's $38 million lottery contract.

A Metro-commissioned report last year accused Graham of breaking the transit agency's ethics policies, and an investigator for the D.C. government said in February 2012 that Graham's conduct had "overtones of pay to play."

But in a formal response last month to the ethics board's investigation, Graham's lawyer, William Taylor III, denied that his client had acted improperly.

"Even if Councilmember Graham had conditioned his support for Warren Williams Jr.'s company in the D.C. lottery contract on Williams' withdrawal from the Florida Avenue project deal, it would not be unethical," Taylor wrote. "By seeking to ensure that the publicly funded [Metro] contract ended up in trustworthy hands, Councilmember Graham acted in the public interest. Sharp-elbowed political behavior is not a violation of any District ethics provision."

Taylor also said Metro's report, which prompted the ethics board's initial investigation, "grossly misconstrues that events that transpired, ignores evidence that certain events did not occur at all and represents as fact the strained inferences of the author."

Along with the city's ethics board, a federal grand jury is looking more broadly into the lottery deal. And as more reports surfaced in the media in December about the federal investigation, which has been ongoing since last summer, Graham took to the D.C. Council dais to defend himself.

"I have been an honest public servant in this city, and no one has suggested the contrary," he said on Dec. 13, adding a call for an end to what he described as "this besmirching of what is an honorable record."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner