Examiner Local Editorial: Full-scale ethics probe of Graham should be next

Opinion,Local Editorial

D.C.'s supposedly tough new Board of Ethics and Government Accountability says its first order of business will be a "preliminary investigation" of D.C. Council member Jim Graham's highly suspect conduct in 2008, when he represented the District on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board.

But the "preliminary" work has already been done. An independent investigation just released by Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft -- an outside law firm commissioned by Metro -- has determined that Graham improperly tried to link a deal for development of Metro-owned land in his ward to a $120 million D.C. Lottery contract. This is why the board needs to launch a full-scale probe of Graham immediately.

The Ward 1 councilman, who called the 62-page report "baffling" and "bizarre," claims he has "no recollection" of ever telling the owners of Banneker Ventures that he would support the company's lottery bid only if they dropped their Metro staff-recommended plan to develop property near the Shaw-Howard Metro station.

But investigators interviewed dozens of witnesses and reviewed pertinent documents, including an email chain in which Graham is informed that a Washington Examiner reporter "asked questions about the May 29, 2008 meeting" between him and Banneker officials in his office and was advised that "it would not be in our interest or your interest to publicize what was discussed." Investigators concluded that Graham had in fact pitted "the interests of the Council ... against the interests of Metro."

Metro has no way to discipline Graham for his betrayal since he no longer sits on its board. But Graham's apparent attempt to improperly influence not one, but two public contracts -- first reported by the Washington Times and later confirmed by the Cadwalader report -- is a textbook example of official conflict of interest forbidden under D.C. law.

What more evidence does ethics Chairman Robert Spagnoletti need? How about documents filed Monday in U.S. District Court accusing Graham of pressuring Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi into removing Eric Payne from his job as director of the Office of Contracts? Payne supposedly angered Graham when he refused to cancel an already awarded lottery contract and illegally reopen the bidding process. Or how about the 100-page report by former OCFO watchdog Bob Andary that reportedly implicates Graham but has never been publicly released?

There's plenty of smoke here. Spagnoletti, a former D.C. attorney general, should stop stalling and start looking for the fire.

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