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Ethics Committee may drop case against Rep. Maxine Waters

September 20, 2012|By Richard Simon
  • The House Ethics Committee may drop its case against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles).
The House Ethics Committee may drop its case against Rep. Maxine Waters… (Pablo Martinez Monsivais…)

WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee is considering dropping the case against Rep. Maxine Waters, a move that would clear the way for the veteran Los Angeles lawmaker to become the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee.

The secretive panel on Thursday signaled that the long-running case may be nearing an end by calling an unusual public Friday session to take up the matter.

Waters has been accused of improperly helping a bank linked to her husband. She has denied any wrongdoing, saying her efforts were in keeping with her longtime work to promote opportunity for minority-owned businesses and lending in underserved communities such as her South Los Angeles district.

The committee, which hired prominent Washington lawyer Billy Martin to investigate the charges and recommend a course of action, could make a decision by Friday afternoon, according to Capitol Hill sources. It is expected to issue a report with its findings.

It is possible that the panel could act against Waters’ chief of staff  Mikael Moore, also her grandson, who was accused of working to help OneUnited, even as Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), 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, 74, an outspoken Democrat who has held elective office in Sacramento or Washington for more than three decades, has been anxious to put the case, which has gone on for more than three years, behind her as she seeks to succeed Frank as the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee in the next Congress.

Ethics Committee officials declined comment beyond a one-sentence statement announcing the hearing, issued by the acting chairman and ranking member in the Waters case, Republican Rep. Bob W. Goodlatte of Virginia and Democrat John Yarmuth of Kentucky.

There was no immediate comment from Waters or her attorney. 

Waters came under scrutiny for calling then-Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson to set up a September 2008 meeting during the financial crisis 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, which had yet to be repaid as of the Monday, the most recent report.

Waters has defended her actions, saying she didn't benefit financially and was acting on behalf of minority banks in general, not just OneUnited. Waters’ husband, Sidney Williams, served on the OneUnited board from January 2004 to April 2008 and owned stock in the institution.

The case has featured a number of strange twists, including an outside investigation finding that communications by committee staff with only Republican panel members during the investigation "raised concerns about the appearance of staff partisanship," though the outside counsel concluded that there was no violation of Waters’ due process rights.

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richard.simon@latimes.com

Twitter: @richardsimon11

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