Waters to demand investigation into suspension of ethics panel lawyers

Rep. Maxine Waters is demanding an investigation into why two attorneys on the ethics committee’s case against her were put on administrative leave the same day the panel announced an indefinite delay of her public trial.

The California Democrat plans to offer a privileged resolution on the floor as early as Tuesday that would direct Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to appoint a bipartisan task force to investigate the matter, according to a source close to Waters.

It’s the latest salvo Waters has fired at the committee as she continues her vigorous defense against charges that she violated ethics rules.

The resolution would also make recommendations “to restore public confidence in the ethics process, including disciplining both staff and members where needed,” according to a draft copy. If the resolution passes, the task force would report its findings and recommendations to the House next year.

The resolution would raise a question of the privileges of the House — under parliamentary rules, Democratic leaders must hold a vote within two days.

 In the resolution, Waters accuses the ethics committee of violating her due process rights and the rules of the committee by delaying her trial, originally scheduled for Nov. 29, and the rules of the committee.

It also argues that the delay and action against the attorneys “have subjected the committee to public ridicule, produced contempt for the ethics process, created the public perception that the committee’s purpose was to unjustly impugn the integrity of a Member of the House, and weakened the ability of the committee to properly conduct its investigative duties, all of which has brought discredit to the House,” according to a draft copy.

Ethics committee chief counsel and staff director Blake Chisam wanted to fire Morgan Kim, the committee's deputy chief counsel, and Stacy Sovereign, another ethics lawyer, on Nov. 19, but was barred from doing so under panel rules. Instead, they were placed on indefinite leave.

Kim was the lead attorney in the Waters trial, which the committee said was delayed because the panel had decided to reopen the investigation after receiving new evidence. It is unknown whether that evidence helps or hurts Waters’s case.

Waters’s resolution is similar to one Pelosi offered in March 2005 after Republicans removed then-Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), chairman of the ethics panel, as well as two other GOP members and committee staff, after the panel admonished then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) for several activities they said brought discredit to the House.

In that resolution, Pelosi said the actions taken against the ethics committee subjected it to “public ridicule, produced contempt for the ethics process, created the public perception that their purpose was to protect a member of the House and weakened the ability of the committee to adequately obtain information and properly conduct its investigative duties, all of which has brought discredit to the House.”

That resolution also called for the formation of a bipartisan task force to make recommendations to restore public confidence in the ethics process and report its findings to the House.

 Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who was controlling floor action that day, ruled the resolution in order, but Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) offered a motion to table, or essentially kill the resolution, which passed on partisan lines.

An investigative subcommittee of the ethics panel has charged Waters with three counts of violating ethics rules for helping to set up a meeting between Treasury officials and OneUnited bank. Waters's husband owns thousands of dollars in OneUnited stock and previously served on its board.

Waters has fought the charges, arguing that she was acting on behalf of minority-owned banks as a whole, not just OneUnited.