Politico

Biden's FAA nominee named in search warrant amid California political spat

Whistleblower allegations involving President Joe Biden’s pick to head the Federal Aviation Administration turned up in a search warrant executed Wednesday by Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators — part of a local political feud that threatens to complicate the president’s efforts to fill a key slot in his administration.

The warrant, which led to a search of County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s home Wednesday, includes accusations of favoritism in a $494,000 contract that the county’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority issued to a nonprofit headed by one of Kuehl’s friends. It seeks correspondence among a long list of people including FAA nominee Phil Washington, who headed the transit agency at the time of the contract award, according to a copy of the warrant posted on the sheriff’s website.

Kuehl is one of several local officials who have clashed with county Sheriff Alex Villanueva, a fellow Democrat, over issues such as accusations that Villanueva uses his office to target his critics.

The office of another Villanueva critic, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón, issued a statement late Wednesday distancing itself from the search warrant, saying that “we do not intend to defend it if challenged in court.”

Attempts to reach Washington for comment at the Denver airport, which he now heads, were unsuccessful. The FAA referred questions to the White House, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, called Wednesday for additional scrutiny of Washington’s nomination in light of the probe. Wicker said he is “deeply troubled to learn the nominee was named in a search warrant that ties him to allegations of corruption at LA Metro.”

“I anticipate that this nominee’s credibility will also be a key focus of the committee,” Wicker said in a statement. A spokesperson for Wicker’s personal office and the committee did not respond to further requests for comment.

Washington has been awaiting a markup in the committee since Biden nominated him in July.

Among other things, the warrant alleges, based on unnamed witnesses, that Washington was directly involved a 2017 sole-source contract award granted to the nonprofit Peace Over Violence, a deal one witness says he pushed to remain in Kuehl’s “good graces.” It also alleges that Washington had the contract paid from a fund normally used for office supplies, which would lessen scrutiny of the expenditure.

Kuehl has denied wrongdoing and suggested the probe is politically motivated, and that the witness who aired the allegations involving Washington is a disgruntled former employee.

In its statement Wednesday, the DA’s office said it had reviewed and dismissed the allegation from Villanueva’s office in 2021, because “the state of the evidence at that time did not prove criminal conduct beyond a reasonable doubt.” The district attorney’s office further said it had no knowledge of the warrant because it hadn’t reviewed the document.

Alex Nieves contributed to this report.

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