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Committee finds Waters' rights not violated in ethics case

June 06, 2012|By Richard Simon
  • Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) was to face a rare trial before an ethics panel in 2010, but the hearing was put off to allow for further investigation.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) was to face a rare trial before an ethics panel… (Pablo Martinez Monsivais…)

WASHINGTON -- The House Ethics Committee put its case against California Congresswoman Maxine Waters back on track Wednesday after finding that her due process rights had not been violated.

In the latest twist in an investigation that has gone on for three years, the committee acknowledged that its staff’s communications with only the Republican committee members during its investigation of Waters, a Democrat from Los Angeles, had "raised concerns about the appearance of staff partisanship." It also found that a committee staff member made "inappropriate" remarks during the investigation.

But a review by an outside counsel concluded that none of the actions violated Waters’ due process rights.

"The committee is entitled to continue its consideration of your matter," Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Democrat John Yarmuth of Kentucky said in a letter to Waters.

With the due-process concern decided, committee members will now await a recommendation from their outside counsel, Washington lawyer Billy Martin, on whether to pursue the case on its merits. Waters, a South Los Angeles political fixture who won election to the state Assembly in 1976 and to Congress in 1990, was to face a rare trial before an ethics panel in 2010, but the hearing was put off to allow for further investigation.

Waters has been accused of intervening improperly on behalf of a bank on whose board her husband served and in which he owned stock.

There was no immediate response from Waters, who has denied any wrongdoing.

The latest development once again put the spotlight on the Ethics Committee, a secretive panel evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans that has long been derided as a symbol of congressional dysfunction.

The outcome is important to the 73-year-old Waters, who is in line to succeed retiring Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) as the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee next year.

During the 2008 financial crisis, Waters, a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, called then-Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulsonto to set up a September meeting between his staff and representatives of minority-owned banks.

The Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent body that referred the case to the House Ethics Committee, said the discussion at the meeting “centered on a single bank, OneUnited.” Three months later, OneUnited received $12 million in federal bailout funds.

The ethics panel also accused Waters' Chief of Staff Mikael Moore, who is her grandson, of working to help the institution, even as Frank, then-chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, urged Waters to “stay out of it” because of her husband's ties to the bank. Waters’ husband, Sidney Williams, served on the OneUnited board from January 2004 to April 2008.

Waters, a prominent black politician, has defended her actions as in keeping with her lifetime of work to aid minority-owned businesses and said that she didn’t benefit financially from her actions. 

Noting that Waters has complained about the length of time the investigation has taken, the committee’s acting leaders wrote her: "The Sixth Amendment does not apply to committee proceedings, and you do not have the same right to a speedy 'trial' that a criminal defendant has. While an unreasonable delay could in theory amount to a due process violation, here the delay has resulted primarily from the legitimate need for further investigation.’’  

Goodlatte and Yarmuth were named acting chairman and ranking members to review the Waters’ case after all five of the committee’s  Republicans and one Democrat earlier this year took the unusual step of recusal from further involvement in the long-running case "out of an abundance of caution and to avoid even an appearance of unfairness.’’

While the committee members said that the staff members’ contacts with only Republicans could raise concerns about the appearance of staff partisanship, they wrote Waters that their investigation determined the communications "did not impact of the ability of the members to provide you a fair hearing."

richard.simon@latimes.com

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