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Democratic Reps. Waters and Rangel to face ethics trials after elections

The trials of Maxine Waters of Los Angeles and Charles B. Rangel of New York will begin Nov. 29 and 15, respectively. 'I am eager to have the opportunity to clear my name,' Waters says.

October 08, 2010|By Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Washington — Prominent Democratic Reps. Maxine Waters and Charles B. Rangel will face ethics trials after the November elections, the head of the House Ethics Committee announced Thursday, in what will be rare, back-to-back congressional proceedings.

The trial for Waters (D-Los Angeles) will begin Nov. 29. The proceedings for Rangel (D-New York) are scheduled to begin Nov. 15.

"After an investigation that has lasted over a year, I am eager to have the opportunity to clear my name," Waters said in a statement Thursday. "I will defend myself vigorously because I have not violated any House rules, and I will not allow anyone to suggest my life's work has been motivated by anything other than the public interest."

Waters, 72, a prominent California black politician since the 1970s, has been accused of intervening improperly on behalf of a bank on whose board her husband served and in which he owns stock.

The congresswoman, who recently established a legal defense fund, has said her actions were in keeping with her work to aid minority-owned businesses and that she received no financial benefit from any of her actions.

The committee's Republican members last week took the unusual step of publicly accusing the panel's Democratic chairwoman, Zoe Lofgren of San Jose, of attempting to put off the trials until after the Nov. 2 vote, heightening partisan tensions on the panel that is evenly split between the two parties.

Lofgren said in a written statement Thursday that she had been attempting to reach bipartisan agreement on a schedule but, after last week's "unprecedented'' statement from Republicans, was granting their request to "unilaterally" set the dates. "Substantial actions must be taken," she said, before trials can begin, including sharing evidence and giving subpoenaed witnesses time to prepare and hire lawyers.

Kenneth Gross, a Washington ethics lawyer, was not surprised by the decision.

"The last thing the Democrats need is a high-profile ethics case on the eve of the election," he said.

Craig Holman of the government watchdog Public Citizen said the timing is appropriate.

"When congressional ethics trials are handled too close to an election, they often turn into spectacles for partisan electoral advantage," Holman said. "Though the Rangel and Waters trials should have been held long ago, it is now appropriate to delay the trials until after the partisan fervor of the election subsides."

Rangel, 80, has been accused of 13 ethics violations, including failing to report income from rental properties and investments on his financial disclosure forms. There was no immediate comment from Rangel.

richard.simon@latimes.com

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