The long-delayed ethics probe of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) may be underway again, however Waters is now threatening to sue the House Ethics Committee.
Waters is accused of using her influence to gain special treatment for Massachusetts-based bank OneUnited, which received $12 million in bailout funds. Changing a law was required in order to get them the money. Her husband, former Ambassador Sidney Williams, owned more than $350,000 in stock in the bank, and had also been a board member.
Because of infighting following the November 2010 election, her trial had been postponed indefinitely. Waters is now seeking to have the case dismissed and is threatening legal action against the committee as well. According to Politico:
Rep. Maxine Waters is calling for the House Ethics Committee to dismiss the long-running case against her, claiming she can’t get fair treatment from the secretive panel in the wake of allegations that staffers improperly shared information in an investigation into her finances.
In another story, Politico claims information about Waters’ finances was funneled to Republicans on the committee improperly:
Blake Chisam, the former staff director and chief counsel for the Ethics Committee, accused the two lead investigators in the Waters probe of secretly feeding information to Republicans on the Ethics Committee, including [Congressman Jo] Bonner. Chisam also accused the staffers of misleading lawmakers and other staff on the status of the investigation.
Since these two stories broke, the committee has hired outside counsel to continue the investigation. NPR reports:
The House ethics committee has named Washington lawyer Billy Martin as an outside counsel to investigate California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters.
The announcement Wednesday follows months of conflict in the committee over handling of the case.
It’s notable that Waters is not asking for the case to be dismissed on the merits, but only because she claims she can no longer get a fair trial. According to Politico:
[Waters’ attorney Stan Brand] laid out several “categories of misconduct by current Committee members and staff,” including “prohibited and prejudicial ex parte communications” … “internal and malicious misleading of members and staff relating to the investigation” by the two ex-staffers; “Evidence of partiality and bias” against Waters; “the use of trumped-up federal obstruction and perjury charges by Committee counsel…”; and “the illegal leaking of confidential Committee documents, transcripts, emails and other information to the media to create a miss-impression regarding both the strength of the case against [Waters] and the Committee ability to proceed with the case.”
According to the Legal Times, Martin is a well-known trial lawyer with a resume that includes the Department of Justice, former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, and former Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell.
Hopefully the appointment of the special investigator in this case will speed things to a resolution. This case has been still for over a year, the delay originally caused by supposed new evidence in the case:
Her trial was delayed because new evidence had supposedly come to light. What that evidence is was not specified. But according to a story on SFGate.com, at least part of that evidence was an email from her grandson Mikael Moore, who is also her chief of staff:
The e-mail never mentioned OneUnited. Moore’s memo said Waters was “under the explicit impression” that provisions affecting small and minority-owned banks were still in the bailout bill. …
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the Financial Services Committee, said in an interview that he inserted the provision for minority banks to protect OneUnited — because it is based in his state.
He said of Waters, “We never discussed it.”
The provision sought by Waters — and inserted by Frank — told the Treasury Department that it should consider — for bailout money — banks that had an asset size of $1 billion or less, and whose size dropped to a lower range because they owned devalued preferred stock in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The only bank that language would affect was OneUnited.
This case needs to be resolved one way or another, although it’s highly unlikely Waters will receive serious punishment even were she to be convicted.