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House Ethics Committee ends Maxine Waters investigation

September 25, 2012|By Richard Simon | This post has been corrected, as indicated below.
  • Rep. Maxine Waters, (D-Los Angeles) smiles at her husband, Sidney Williams, during a House Ethics Committee hearing after learning she had been cleared of all charges.
Rep. Maxine Waters, (D-Los Angeles) smiles at her husband, Sidney Williams,… (J. Scott Applewhite / AP…)

WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee on Tuesday formally ended its investigation of U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, announcing its unanimous decision to drop the case because the veteran Los Angeles lawmaker did not break any rules.

The 10-member panel, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, determined that the evidence "does not establish, to the standard of clear and convincing evidence, that Rep. Waters violated House rules.’’  

There was no immediate response from Waters’ office. But the conclusion clears the way for her to become the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee in the next Congress.

The panel, however, criticized the actions of Waters’ chief of staff, her grandson Mikael Moore, and urged the House to consider tightening the ban on lawmakers putting relatives on their staffs to include grandchildren.

"One of the issues that complicated the resolution of this matter was the nature of the relationship between Rep. Waters and her chief of staff, who is also her grandson," the committee said. House rules generally prohibit lawmakers from putting spouses, children and a number of other family members on their payrolls, but not grandchildren.

The committee’s findings, along with the 137-page report from Billy Martin, a Washington attorney hired by the panel, were submitted to the House on Tuesday.

The report brings to an end a three-year investigation that featured partisan fights, an investigation of the committee’s own conduct, a review of 150,000 pages of documents and a potential $1 million legal bill for the taxpayers.

The case grew out of a meeting that Waters set up during the 2008 financial crisis between Treasury officials and representatives of minority-owned banks. The Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent body which referred the case to the Ethics Committee,  said the discussion at the meeting "centered on a single bank —  OneUnited," in which Waters' husband, Sidney Williams, held stock and for which he had previously served on the board. The bank later received $12 million in bailout funds.

Waters "reasonably believed, at the time she requested the meeting, that the attendees would be speaking on behalf of minority banks generally," the committee report says. "While it appears that all of the minority bankers who attended the meeting were associated with OneUnited, and that OneUnited was alone in requesting substantial financial assistance from the Treasury Department at the meeting, the record indicates that Rep. Waters did not have reason to know of either of these facts when she arranged the meeting."

The panel, as expected, issued a letter of reproval to Moore for taking actions on behalf of OneUnited "when he knew, or should have known, of Rep. Waters' personal financial interest, despite Rep. Waters' instructions to avoid the conflict."

While the committee has previously criticized lawmakers for staff members’ actions, the panel said Waters took steps to inform her chief of staff of her conflict of interest with OneUnited.

The usually secretive panel offered a rare glimpse into its tumultuous investigation, citing "mutual suspicions" and tensions among its members in the last Congress that other members and staff were acting in "partisan political ways" and erroneous advice from its former chief counsel that Waters wouldn’t challenge the allegations

[For the Record, 11:01 a.m. PST  Sept. 25: This post has been corrected to reflect that the investigation could potentially cost taxpayers $1 million, not $1 billion.]

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richard.simon@latimes.com

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