WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee appeared likely Friday to drop its case against Rep. Maxine Waters after an independent legal advisor concluded that there is “not sufficient evidence…to prove violations by a clear and convincing standard.”
The panel received the recommendation during a rare open session, and was expected to end the case against Waters, who has been accused of improperly helping a bank linked to her husband. The committee’s decision could come before the end of the day.
Dismissal of the case, which has gone on for more than three years, would clear the way for the veteran lawmaker to become the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee in the next Congress.
But her chief of staff and grandson Mikael Moore faced a possible letter of reproval from the committee for doing work that could have aided OneUnited bank during the 2008 financial crisis. Waters’ husband, Sidney Williams, served on the OneUnited board from January 2004 to April 2008 and owned stock in the institution. Moore, in an appearance before the committee on Friday, denied wrongdoing.
Waters, who was in attendance, has also denied 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 ethics committee had hired prominent Washington lawyer Billy Martin to investigate the charges and recommend a course of action. Martin told the panel on Friday that “the evidence in the record does not support a knowing violation of ethics rules or any other standard of conduct with respect to Rep. Maxine Waters by a clear and convincing standard.”
His 150-page report could be made available later Friday.
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 Monday, according to 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.
Martin said he had concluded that when Waters requested the meeting with the Treasury Department, “she believed she was acting on behalf of all minority banks which she believed had been seriously affected by the conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”
“Because the evidence supports that she was acting on behalf of a large group of banks, we found no evidence in the record to support that her phone call to arrange the meeting violated any House rule or any other standard of conduct,” Martin said.
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 behind her as she seeks to succeed Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) as the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee in the next Congress.
There was no immediate comment from Waters or her attorney.
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.