(Adds Cantwell statements in paragraphs 15-16.)
Bloomberg Government subscribers get the stories like this first. Act now and gain unlimited access to everything you need to know. Learn more.
President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Federal Aviation Administration defended himself after being named in a search warrant in Los Angeles, a development that could complicate his path to confirmation.
“All the allegations are false,” Phil Washington told Bloomberg at an Air Line Pilots Association conference in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.
Biden nominated Washington in July to lead the agency responsible for aviation safety and air traffic control. The Senate committee that oversees the FAA hasn’t scheduled Washington’s nomination hearing, but its top Republican member said the process will require “additional scrutiny.”
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department served several search warrants this week in an “ongoing public corruption investigation.” Investigators are looking into how the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which Washington led for six years, awarded the organization Peace Over Violence sole-source contracts for a sexual harassment hotline.
LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, a member of the LA Metro board of directors whose home was searched, said the warrant wasn’t motivated by an effort to look into the awarding of the contract, which she says never involved her.
“The basis of this search was questionable and will be investigated,” she said on Twitter, adding that it was a “thuggish attempt to intimidate and silence not just me but many other public servants.”
An unnamed witness alleged that Washington skipped the traditional hiring process for several MTA employees, according to the the search warrant. The warrant includes a search for correspondence of metro officials, including Washington.
A White House official said Washington’s nomination will be evaluated as it moves through the Senate, and the administration will allow that process to play out.
Washington said he wasn’t familiar with the search warrant. He said he supported the hotline, calling it “a really good effort to protect women and girls on the system.” He said he hadn’t been contacted by anyone in the Senate about the search warrant reports.
Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation ranking member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said he was already skeptical about Washington’s “lack of experience in aviation” and now is “deeply troubled” by the search warrant.
“The committee’s vetting process will require additional scrutiny and review into his leadership at LA Metro,” Wicker said in a statement. “I anticipate that this nominee’s credibility will also be a key focus.”
Some Democrats defended Washington. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Washington is a strong manager, which is what the agency needs, and that he had been adequately vetted.
“The Denver airport fully investigated this and they found no basis,” DeFazio told reporters at the Air Line Pilots Association conference. Washington was accepting an award at the conference on behalf of the Denver International Airport, where he is CEO.
“This is a political dispute between a supervisor who’s elected, and the county sheriff, who’s elected, and Phil is tangentially involved in this dispute,” DeFazio said.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chair of the Commerce Committee, said in a statement that the confirmation process “includes a careful and thorough review of the individual’s qualifications.”
“Mr. Washington’s nomination and all of his background is undergoing that process now,” she said.
Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) called Washington “one of the most straight-laced people I’ve ever met.”
“I don’t think there’s any merit to the allegations,” said Hickenlooper, who serves on Commerce panel. “Therefore, they should not be any basis for a decision. And I’ll certainly lobby the best I can.”