The House Financial Services Committee (FSC)
has released advanced information regarding an investigation conducted by the
Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD). The FSC report was
based on a draft report due from OIG some time this week, was obtained by The Washington Times. The investigation had been prompted by a
request from Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-NC) chairman of the investigative
subcommittee of the FSC.
According to the release the OIG has concluded that former HUD deputy secretary
Maurice Jones who is now the commerce secretary in the Commonwealth of
Virginia, improperly lobbied Congress last year while still at HUD. Jones allegedly sent an email to more than
1,000 people including 46 who were also employed at HUD, asking them to contact
senators to, in the words of the FSC memo '"defend against efforts by some
Republicans' to prevent a housing bill to come up for a vote." The email also reportedly asked recipients to tell
senators to vote "no" on another amendment.
The OIG has, again according to FSC, concluded that Jones and four others at
HUD appear to have violated anti-lobbying laws, which restrict the use of funds
for publicity or propaganda directed at pending legislation before Congress.
The probe also concluded that Mr. Jones violated internal HUD policy on
lobbying by federal employees.
Among other HUD employees singled out by OIG was Elliot Mincberg, acting
general deputy assistant secretary. He was reportedly found to have tried to interfere
with the investigation by "interrupting and inserting himself into an ongoing
witness interview" and by threatening agents that he would ensure they were
charged as a result of "inappropriate actions," which he did not clarify.
Mr. Mincberg told investigators that HUD had to protect the list of email
recipients who received Mr. Jones' message, and asked the inspector general's
office for assurances that the information wouldn't be turned over to
The OIG report is said to quote Jones that he didn't know about HUD's policy
prohibiting lobbying on pending legislation; "[Deputy Secretary] stated that it
was articulated to him that 'I could do things that others could not.'"
The Justice Department declined to open a criminal investigation into Mr.
Jones, but the OIG has referred their findings to the office of special
counsel, which enforces federal laws that prohibit an official from coercing
employees' political activities. The Government Accountability Office also is
conducting a review and McHenry's subcommittee will hold a hearing on the
internal investigation Wednesday.
"We take the issues raised in the report very seriously," HUD spokesman
Jereon Brown told the Washington
Times. "We will continue to cooperate with ongoing
investigations and will have no further comment while this matter and the
report remains under review and cannot comment on personnel matters." In a
letter last year to Mr. McHenry, HUD Secretary Shaun L.S. Donovan said the
department had reviewed its guidance and ethics training.
Jones was named to newly elected Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe's Cabinet in