By Susan Crabtree - 09/28/10 08:25 PM EDT
Republicans on the House ethics committee are calling on Democrats to schedule the public trials of charges against Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) before the November elections.
In an unusual break from the bipartisan secrecy the panel normally maintains, Rep. Jo Bonner (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the ethics committee, issued a public statement accusing Democrats of “stalling” the resolution of the Rangel and Waters matters.
“It is in the best interest of transparency and fairness to the American people, Representatives Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters, and other members of the U.S. House of Representatives, that the House ethics committee stop stalling the resolution of the Rangel and Waters matters and complete these public trails prior to the November elections,” Bonner said in a lengthy written statement signed by himself and the four other GOP members of the ethics panel.
The ethics committee has been struggling to set a date for the public trials. Last Thursday the committee huddled in its basement office to try to hash out an agreement on the scheduling, but Republicans and Democrats were still at an impasse as of late last week.
Democratic leaders would no doubt like to avoid the spectacle of back-to-back public ethics trials for two of their members before the November elections. They have been frustrated with Rangel and Waters ever since they both rejected attempts to negotiate punishments and avoid a public trial.
Republicans, who stand to gain seats in the November election and possibly retake the majority, have every interest in showcasing the ethics charges against two prominent Democrats. Rangel, too, said he would like to have a chance to clear his name before the midterm vote and has expressed frustration over the ethics committee’s failure to produce a trial schedule.
Waters has urged the panel to hold the trial before the election, but last week said only that she would comment at the appropriate time.
Watchdogs are expecting those trials to take place after the elections so the ethics committee can avoid any accusations of politicizing the process.
In his public statement, Bonner specifically took issue with comments House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) made this past weekend. Bonner blasted Hoyer for inaccurately saying that the scheduling of the trials is “up to Jo Bonner, and Zoe Lofgren, the Democrat.”
Hoyer also called for the trials to “be resolved as quickly as possible” and attributed the unwillingness of the committee to set trial dates prior to the November election to “their own scheduling problems.”
Bonner pointed to committee rules allowing adjudicatory subcommittees to meet “at the discretion of the chair.”
“After months of trial preparation — and, in the Rangel matter, two years of investigation — Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren should have already issued notices of public trial schedules in both the Rangel and Waters matters,” Bonner said in the statement.
He also said that members of the committee have “repeatedly” expressed their willingness to meet in October and hold the trial and noted that in the past committee members have returned to Washington to conclude “pressing” ethics issues.
“Representative Rangel and Representative Waters have publicly and rightfully — demanded the setting of their respective trials prior to the November election to ensure swift and fair resolution of their matters,” Bonner wrote. “In our opinion, Representatives Rangel and Waters deserve the opportunity to publicly and timely address the charges against them.”