VA House confirms McAuliffe nominee under federal investigation

By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. —The Virginia House of Delegates unanimously confirmed all of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s 13 cabinet nominees Thursday — including the one under a federal investigation.

HE’S IN: Maurice Jones speaks after Virginia Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe, right, introduced him as nominee for secretary of commerce and trade at news conference at the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce in Richmond on Jan. 2.

Virginia delegates delayed the confirmation scheduled for Tuesday when word broke that Maurice Jones, Virginia’s new secretary of commerce and trade, is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General. The investigation revealed that Jones improperly lobbied Congress — albeit perhaps ignorantly — while working as HUD’s deputy secretary last year.

“We think the explanation offered by inspector general and secretary was sufficient,” said Matthew Moran, communications director for Speaker of the House Bill Howell.

HUD Inspector General David Montoya, in written and oral testimony given before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee Tuesday, said Jones violated HUD internal policy and perhaps other policies by emailing his “friends and colleagues” and urging them to tell their senators to vote for a bill that benefited HUD. Still, Jones didn’t technically violate anti-lobbying laws, since the cost of generating and sending the email didn’t exceed a $50,000 threshold.

It’s unclear whether McAuliffe’s team had any knowledge of the investigation prior to the announcement of Jones’ nomination in early January. The governor’s office hasn’t returned Watchdog.org’s inquiries over the last two days, and Jones’ office hasn’t responded to requests since Tuesday.

Still, the investigation isn’t over.

Now that the OIG has largely completed its investigation, the U.S. Government Accountability Office is also looking into whether Jones broke any appropriations laws, and the Office of Special Counsel is determining whether Jones’ office was behind any coercion of personal political activity.

— Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter with Watchdog.org, and can be reached at kwatson@watchdog.org.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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