Watchdog wants Ethics panel probed

A watchdog group on Monday called for an outside investigation of the House Ethics Committee. 

The request follows reports that committee lawyers investigating the conduct of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) breached confidentiality by revealing material from the investigation prior to its conclusion.

In a letter sent to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Monday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) called on both leaders to appoint outside counsel to investigate the House Ethics Committee.

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“More important than an inquiry into any specific member of Congress is an investigation into the committee itself,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a statement.  "Confidence in the House ethics process already is historically low," she added.

Sloan noted that "the House Ethics Committee has remained virtually inactive since the beginning of the 112th Congress."

The committee has come under renewed criticism for failing to move on a backlog of open cases. It has been under Republican control for more than six months, since the beginning of the 112th Congress in January.

Last year, Blake Chisam, the former staff director for the Ethics Committee, accused two top committee lawyers of sharing with Republicans on the panel information from an investigation into Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.).

“It is depressing that even the one committee intended to protect the institution of the House as a whole has been decimated by partisan politics, further savaging the already dismal reputation of Congress," Sloan said.

Politico reported Monday that Waters is now requesting that her case be dismissed amid allegations of mishandling and "politically motivated" misconduct by the committee and the two lawyers who worked on her case. The lawyers, Morgan Kim and Stacy Sovereign, were suspended last year and no longer work for the committee.

The letter from CREW urges House leaders to "disregard all previous work done by the committee on the case, starting afresh "if the Committee chooses to proceed in the Waters investigation.

“At this point, who could possibly have confidence in anything that comes out of the committee?" Sloan said. "The only solution is for the Speaker and minority leader to hire a well-respected outside counsel to conduct a thorough and fair review and to release the results to the public.”

The investigation into Waters's alleged ethics violations originated with her work on behalf of OneUnited Bank, where her husband had been a director and in which he had stock holdings.