Questions Remain in Ethics Committee Probe of Maxine Waters

If there's nothing wrong, why such hesitancy to let us know what's going on?

By Bryan Gerhart Jul 06, 2011

With a year, a handful of attorneys and their credibility gone, the House Ethics Committee has yet to make substantial progress in its corruption case against Rep. Maxine Waters. The lingering investigation against the California Democrat has garnered as much attention for its controversial process as for the alleged dealings of Rep. Waters. While the member of the Congressional Black Congress has repeatedly made clear her desire to move forward with a public trial in an attempt to clear her name, the Ethics Committee hasn’t shown any intent of clearing up the matter or offering an explanation for the administrative bungles that have plagued the case.

Rep. Waters, who represents California’s 35th congressional district, has been the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Ethics Committee because she advocated on behalf of OneUnited Bank, a black owned financial institution whose board of directors included Rep. Waters’ husband. The beleaguered bank ultimately received $12 million in federal bailout funds dating back to 2008.

The investigation came at the same time another member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Harlem’s Rep. Charlie Rangel, was charged with multiple counts of ethics violations. On November 19, the day after Rangel was found guilty of 11 of the 13 charges, Rep. Waters’s impending trial was abruptly canceled and has not yet been rescheduled. Additionally, the two lawyers on the congresswoman’s case were put on administrative leave, yet no explanation has been offered as to why.

The explanation may never come. Robert Walker, an ethics attorney who has served as a staff director to the House Ethics Committee, told TPM Muckraker that unless Waters sees exposing the committee as relevant to her defense, the full story might not ever see the light of day. The details of the case remain ambiguous, but it seems clear that the investigation has tainted the reputation of the Committee. Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, puts it plainly to TPM: "The questions swirling around the committee undermine its fact finding in the case."

While there’s still no verdict on whether or not Rep. Maxine Waters is did anything wrong, the committee has now extended an investigation of Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, a fellow member of the Congressional Black Caucus. This makes three prominent Black lawmakers in just over a year who have found themselves under the eye of a watchdog organization in dire need of its own watchdog organization. The Representatives under investigation shouldn’t be ignored (and there are a host of reasons why), but neither should the Committee’s own stagnation.