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Issa to drop federal bill on D.C. hiring

WASHINGTON — A leading House Republican has agreed to set aside a bill that would have required criminal background checks for political appointees in the District of Columbia.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., agreed not to take any action on the bill through the end of the year after a telephone conversation Tuesday morning with D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown, who pledged that the Council would pass a similar measure by year’s end.

Issa is chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which oversees district government. The bill was prompted by questions about the hiring of Sulaimon Brown, a former mayoral candidate, to a $110,000-a-year job in Democratic Mayor Vincent Gray’s administration.

A federal grand jury is investigating Sulaimon Brown’s claims that he was paid and promised a job by members of Gray’s campaign staff last year in exchange for negative comments about then-mayor Adrian Fenty. Issa’s committee also investigated Brown’s allegations and found insufficient evidence that Brown was promised a job. Brown did, however, receive money orders tied to a Gray campaign aide, the committee found.

Sulaimon Brown was fired after less than a month on the job for what administration officials described as inappropriate behavior and poor performance. His past legal troubles include an attempted murder charge — he was acquitted — a gun charge, and a restraining order that accused him of stalking a 13-year-old girl.

Issa introduced the bill Monday, calling it an important “bulwark against cronyism.” It was roundly condemned by district leaders, including Gray, who called it an “ill-advised and unnecessary” example of congressional meddling in local affairs.

Gray’s administration began conducting criminal background checks on appointees this spring, after Sulaimon Brown was fired. The Council is considering a bill that would require the background checks along with other new restrictions on political appointments.

Frederick Hill, a spokesman for Issa, said Issa was aware that the Council had been considering such a measure, “but it’s been a continuing concern of the committee that the proposal had not been enacted.” Issa accepted Kwame Brown’s pledge that the Council would approve its bill by year’s end and agreed not to go forward with a committee markup scheduled for Thursday, Hill said.

“We had a good exchange,” the Democratic Council chairman said in a statement. “In the end, we found common ground, and agreed that we both wanted the same outcome. I am grateful for his concern and cooperation.”

Janene Jackson, director of Gray’s Office of Policy and Legislative Affairs, said she spoke to members of the committee staff but that the mayor did not reach out to Issa directly. She said Gray was aware that Kwame Brown intended to speak to Issa and deferred to him because the proposed legislation is a Council matter.

“They both have an excellent relationship with Congressman Issa,” Jackson said.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who represents the district in Congress, said she called Issa and thanked him for allowing the Council to move forward with its bill.

“I hope other members will follow his example of being responsive to the city in this way,” Norton said.

This spring, Issa suggested that Congress should give district leaders more freedom to spend their local tax dollars, in part to ensure that the local government wouldn’t be at risk of running out of money in the event of a federal shutdown — although he has yet to introduce a bill to address the issue. Congress must approve the district’s budget and laws.