WASHINGTON -- District of Columbia councilmembers met beind closed doors Monday afternoon to discuss their colleague, Ward 5 Democrat Harry Thomas Jr., whose home was searched by FBI and IRS investigators on Friday amid an ongoing corruption scandal.
The D.C. Council has been working to finalize new ethics-reform legislation, just as many councilmembers, the council chairman and the mayor have been investigated or criticized for various alleged ethical lapses and misconduct.
D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D) called for a closed-door meeting of his council colleagues on Friday, but called it off when only a few could attend.
Following a D.C. Council committee vote on ethics-reform legislation at the Wilson Building on Monday morning, Brown confirmed that a meeting about Thomas will happen before the end of the day, according to The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis. Councilmembers were swarmed by the Wilson Building press corps following their private discussions, with the chairman saying that he would have a conversation with Thomas to discuss their colleagues' concerns.
The Post reported earlier:
Brown and many of his colleagues have declined to comment publicly on the raid since Friday, but the hastily called meeting is an acknowledgment that the escalating federal investigation has renewed pressure on the council to take action on Thomas.
Thomas is accused of steering $300,000 of grant money through Team Thomas, a youth sports non-profit group he controlled. He's accused of spending the money on, among other things, an Audi SUV and outings to Hooters and Pebble Beach.
Many expect a federal indictment in Team Thomas matter. In an interview with The Washington Times:
Ted J. Williams, a D.C. criminal defense attorney, said the raid likely was conducted to gather evidence such as financial records and could signal that authorities' investigation into Mr. Thomas' activities is winding down.
"When the FBI conducts this type of raid, it’s usually at the end of their investigation," he said. "All indication that I see is that council member Thomas will be indicted."
In the meantime, the D.C. Council is grappling with what it should do in reaction to the latest Thomas developments.
The Post notes that "Brown is also under pressure from members concerned that repercussions for Thomas are in keeping with those for other council members who have been subject to investigation."
A Post columnist, Colby King, wrote that the council's discussions on the Thomas matter should remain open to the public.
Jonetta Rose Barras, in a Washington Examiner column, wrote that although the ethics-reform legislation can't be applied retroactively, there are a number of actions councilmembers could take:
They could deny Thomas membership in any committee. They could strip him of his staff. They also could censure him.
If the council has received the public's strong unequivocal message about the need for ethics reform and restoring confidence in the government, at the very least, the legislature must do this week what it failed to do last summer: As an institution, it must demand Thomas resign, immediately.
Three councilmembers, Cheh, David Catania (D-At-Large) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), have already called for Thomas to step down.
D.C. Republicans, who have been hammering on the Team Thomas scandal for more than a year, issued statements on Friday calling for Thomas to resign.
"Mr. Thomas is a complete embarrassment to our city and needs to immediately resign," D.C. Republican Party chairman Bob Kabel said in a statement. "The 8 DC Councilmembers who "continue to remain silent, need to publicly call for Mr. Thomas to resign today. The Council needs to find any and all means necessary to force Mr. Thomas to resign."
Thomas, the son of the late D.C. Councilmember Harry Thomas Sr., does have his defenders, especially in Ward 5. One D.C. resident told the Post's Mike DeBonis: "People know it's political. It's racial. We know what the Thomas family has done in the District of Columbia."