Rep. Waters wants ethics trial now

Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and the ongoing saga of their ethics charges are refusing to go away.

After Democrats’ self-declared “shellacking” at the polls, their leaders wanted to gut it out through the embarrassing public trials of Waters and Rangel just to put the matter behind them. The hope was that the proceedings against the two senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus would be over by the end of November.

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But nearly a month after the brutal midterm defeat, Waters and Rangel are continuing to make headlines. In a strange turn of events, the ethics committee last week abruptly canceled Waters’s hearing, which had been scheduled to begin on Monday.

With lawmakers returning this week to a crowded lame-duck schedule, the delay makes it nearly impossible for Waters’s trial to conclude before the end of the year, effectively keeping the case in the news for weeks and possibly months to come.

Waters, a 10-year House veteran who sits on the Financial Services Committee, is fed up with the delays. On Monday she launched another assault in her protracted battle with the ethics committee and called on the panel to immediately hold the trial on whether she violated House rules.

She told a gaggle of reporters at a carefully planned press conference outside the committee room where the trial was supposed to be held that the ethics committee has a weak case, has denied her due process and lacks “decency and professional decorum.” She said the behavior of the panel “would not be tolerated in a court of law.”

The California Democrat also dismissed the ethics committee’s stated reason for delaying the trial: that it had found new evidence in the case that forced the investigative committee to reconvene and consider it.

She called the explanation an excuse that “defies common logic.”

During the press event, Waters also lashed out at her hometown newspaper, The Los Angeles Times, by pointedly refusing to answer a question from its reporter.

“I know where you stand,” she said.

Waters also said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the ethics committee, had told her that she was “under pressure.”

But Waters said she did not know what Lofgren was referring to, and Lofgren did not elaborate.

Both Waters and Rangel have complained about their treatment by the ethics committee and vigorously proclaimed their innocence. Rangel has admitted to being sloppy with his paperwork and mistakenly breaking House rules, but he has insisted that none of the infractions were intentional or done for personal benefit.

Rangel, the former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee who faces a censure vote on the House floor some time this week, on Sunday indicated that he had no plans to give up the fight now.

Instead, he plans to make a public plea for greater leniency and argue for a lesser ruling of reprimand. Before the Thanksgiving recess, the ethics committee recommended censure for Rangel after a nearly two-year investigation.

Democratic leaders privately groaned about Rangel’s plans, recalling his meandering 37-minute floor speech in which he dared members to expel him and declared: “I know a lot of you might want me to go away. I am not going away. … I’m here.

“I’m not asking for leniency, I’m asking for exposure of the facts,” Rangel said during the floor speech. “If I can’t get my dignity back here, then fire your best shot at getting me expelled.”

Many of the admissions and points Rangel made during the speech were later cited during the ethics committee’s abbreviated summary judgment presentation of the case.

The ethics committee found him guilty of 11 of the 13 charges originally leveled against him. During the last two years, Rangel has faced a string of alleged violations involving his personal finances and improper solicitations for an educational center bearing his name, among others.

Expelling a member requires a two-thirds vote of the full House, while a censure requires only a simple majority. While members may offer resolutions to increase the penalty to expulsion, Rangel, who is still beloved by many, would no doubt survive. Censure, on the other hand, would be a humiliating blow to the silver-haired House veteran because it requires the Speaker to read the committee’s findings to him while he is in the well of the House.

Rangel’s allies likely would counter with a resolution to lower the punishment to reprimand, which is a rebuke, but would not force him to endure the public reading of the ethics committee’s ruling.

Waters, a senior member of the Financial Services Committee, is accused of using her position to arrange a meeting between Treasury Department officials and the National Bankers Association regarding OneUnited Bank. At the time, Waters’s husband was a significant shareholder in the bank and had formerly served on its board of directors.

The California congresswoman has strongly denied the ethics charges against her and has repeatedly argued that she was acting on behalf of all small and minority-owned banks, not just OneUnited, as she has done for other minority-owned businesses throughout her career.

OneUnited eventually received $12 million from the federal government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The ethics committee declined to comment on the two cases when contacted Monday by The Hill.


Editor's note: This updated story was originally posted with an incorrect timestamp of 7:49 AM.   It was originally posted at 11:54 a.m. and updated at 8:19 p.m.