Rep. Waters set to launch ethics defense with reporter roundtable discussion

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) will launch an aggressive defense against the ethics charges leveled against her in a sit-down discussion with reporters on Friday morning.

At the 10 a.m. meeting with reporters, Waters plans to hand out a detailed memo explaining her defense in bullet points. She will likely echo some of the same themes her office has been driving since the ethics committee announced three conflict-of-interest charges against her two weeks ago. The allegations involve her help in getting bailout money for a troubled minority-owned bank in which her husband at the time owned stock.

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Since the charges were first leveled nearly two weeks ago, Waters has vigorously defended herself and will fight the charges in a public trial that will likely take place this fall. She has told the press through direct comments and written statements that she did not violate any House rules and would rather defend herself at an ethics trial than admit to “something I did not do.”

Waters’s strategic approach stands in stark contrast with Rep. Charles Rangel’s (D-N.Y.) freewheeling, 30-minute floor speech Tuesday that surprised his colleagues and angered Democratic leaders who advised against it.

Democratic leaders were equally annoyed the Rangel speech stole the legislative thunder of a $26 billion state-aid bill designed to keep teachers in their jobs.

Waters had originally considered holding a press conference Tuesday morning, then nixed the idea. After Rangel’s surprise defense on the House floor, she remained mum, promising reporters she would speak to them soon.

Throughout the week, Waters’s chief of staff Mikael Moore has provided background to reporters about a trail of e-mails between himself and officials of the bank, OneUnited, which the ethics committee cites as proof that Waters was helping the bank get TARP funds.

The bank eventually received $12 million in Treasury assistance. Moore, who is also Waters’s grandson, has said the e-mails cited in the report don’t show how anything he did helped OneUnited get TARP money. He also has said there are no documents from the Treasury Department or anywhere else showing any influence Waters or her staff had on the Treasury officials’ decision.

Waters attorneys had previously argued Moore acted without her knowledge and compared her office’s activities to those of Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), whom the committee exonerated last year.

Graves had invited a business partner of his wife’s to testify before a committee. The hearing covered the industry in which the witness and Graves’s wife were investors, and he failed to disclose the relationship at the hearing.

Waters also alluded to racial motives Tuesday on Tom Joyner's show, which is broadcast over the Internet on BlackAmericaWeb.com.

"The OCE [Office of Congressional Ethics] is poorly constructed,” Waters said. “You don't know who is charging you with what or brought a claim against you or who brought the information to the OCE ... of all the information claimed or accusations brought to them, they think that African-Americans are the only ones who they move further with investigation on.”

Waters’s charge about the relatively new OCE is untrue. While the OCE has recommended that the full ethics committee further investigate the activities of several House members, both black and white, the ethics committee itself has charged only black members with violations.

Former Rep. Yvonne Burke (D-Calif.), the first female chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, sits on the OCE’s board, and the OCE has only made decisions based on unanimous votes.