Lawyers for Waters want ethics to halt probe for evidence

Attorneys Stanley Brand and Andrew Herman sent a letter to the ethics committee on Wednesday, taking issue with the panel’s ongoing investigative activities after the formal probe was over and Waters was charged with violating House rules. An investigative subcommittee of the ethics panel conducts the probe and issues formal charges in a document known as a Statement of Alleged Violation (SAV).

“Such inquiry violates both the Committee’s rules and comparable federal criminal procedure and raises significant questions about the sufficiency of the evidence that the Investigative Subcommittee replied [sic] upon when it issues the charges contained in the SAV,” wrote Brand and Herman. “Most alarmingly, it calls into question the impartiality and good faith of the Investigative Subcommittee.”

The lawyers cite an ethics committee document request to Waters’s office that aides received Aug. 17 and ongoing contacts and interviews with witnesses. The information requested, they argue, relates solely to matters addressed in the SAV. In addition, a top ethics committee aide threatened Waters with a subpoena if she did not voluntarily provide the documents in question, according to Brand and Herman.

Waters has vigorously defended herself against charges that she violated House rules by using her position to help a bank in which her husband owned stock and previously served on its board. She has chosen to fight the allegations in a public trial.

Brand and Herman point to ethics committee rules and “long-standing comparable federal criminal practice and procedure” to make their case that the panel is outside its bounds in gathering additional evidence in the case against Waters.

“The Committee’s rules are consistent and indeed appear to be based upon the proposition under federal rules that ‘[o]nce a defendant has been indicted, the government is precluded from using the grand jury for the sole or dominant purpose of obtaining additional evidence,’ ” they wrote, citing the 1985 case of United States v. Moss.

The attorneys also argue the investigative subcommittee was too quick in rejecting Waters’s motions to dismiss the charges, and claim that makes the additional evidence-gathering even more suspect.

Waters’s public trial could come sometime this fall — during the midterm election season — and lawyers for the ethics committee likely already are preparing for it. House ethics committee rules allow attorneys for the ethics committee to prepare for the trial by asking for documents and interviewing witnesses, but the rules are broad and don’t specify just how much and what type of information they can ask for, leaving room for attorneys on both sides to make their case.

Unlike criminal proceedings, however, the ethics committee itself —not a judge — determines whether Waters’s legal arguments are accepted or dismissed. For that reason, it’s unlikely the panel will halt its activities after receiving the letter from Brand and Herman. 

The ethics committee traditionally does not discuss its activities in a pending case and did not return a request for comment.

—This story was updated at 6:50 p.m.