Six lawmakers recuse themselves from Rep. Waters ethics case

Six lawmakers on the House Ethics Committee have recused themselves from the ethics case against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

The voluntary and unprecedented recusals come as an outside counsel probes whether the secretive ethics committee acted inappropriately in the Waters case.

The letter of recusal was submitted and approved for the senior lawmakers on the panel, Chairman Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), along with the rest of the panel’s Republicans, Reps. Michael McCaul (Texas), Michael Conaway (Texas), Charlie Dent (Pa.) and Gregg Harper (Miss.).

In their place, House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump aide: Boehner is the disaster Boehner: Tax reform is 'just a bunch of happy talk' Lobbying World MORE (R-Ohio) appointed Rep. Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteTech giants urge Congress to revise foreign surveillance law Top Dem calls for investigation into Sessions House votes to expand death penalty for police killings MORE (R-Va.) to serve as the panel’s acting chairman and Rep. John YarmuthJohn YarmuthOvernight Finance: GOP bill would leave 23M more uninsured, says CBO | Trump aides defend budget | Mnuchin asks for clean debt hike before August | Ryan says House could pass bill without border tax Mulvaney defends Trump budget before Congress Dem lawmaker: Time for new generation of leadership MORE (D-Ky.) to serve as the committee’s ranking member. Additionally, Reps. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Moore CapitoGOP leader tempers ObamaCare expectations Trump got harsher GOP reception than Bush on budget Congress should act on measure to help Medicare, small businesses MORE (R-W.Va.), Tim GriffinTim GriffinFlynn discloses lobbying that may have helped Turkey Tea Party class reassesses record Huckabee's daughter to run '16 campaign MORE (R-Ark.) and John Sarbanes (D-Md.) were chosen to preside over the Waters case.

The recusals were not an indication of guilt of any member included in the recusal, according to the letter sent from Bonner to BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump aide: Boehner is the disaster Boehner: Tax reform is 'just a bunch of happy talk' Lobbying World MORE.  

“They believe that out of an abundance of caution and to avoid even an appearance of unfairness their voluntary recusal will eliminate the possibility of questions being raised as to the partiality or compliance of committee members considering this matter,” stated the letter.  

“They want to ensure the public, the House, and Representative Waters that this investigation is continuing in a fair and unbiased manner.” 

For more than two years, the committee has investigated whether Waters violated House rules after allegations surfaced that she secured funding for a bank in which her husband own stock. Waters has maintained her innocence.

As the committee moved towards holding a trial for Waters late in 2010, the panel halted abruptly and placed two of its lead attorneys on administrative leave. Shortly afterwards, the committee’s chief counsel stepped down. 

The first half of 2011 was spent in a flurry of firing and reorganizing among the panel’s investigative and legal staff, which included the hiring of a new chief counsel.

In July, the committee announced it was hiring outside attorney Billy Martin to investigate whether members and staff on the panel acted inappropriately in the Waters case.

Since then, Martin has spent at least $300,000 in his investigation and has been approved for up to $500,000 more in funding through the end of his contract, which expires on July 31, 2012. 

Only one witness has refused to comply with Martin as he’s interviewed dozens of current and former members and staff involved in the Waters case, according to Bonner’s letter on Friday. 

The refusal has raised questions about whether Martin will be able to complete his review of the committee’s handling of the Waters case. 

“Mr. Martin has advised that one necessary witness has refused to appear voluntarily and, when subpoenaed to testify, communicated to the Committee that the witness would refuse to answer questions on the basis of the witness’s Fifth Amendment privilege,” the letter stated. 

“The witness’s refusal to answer questions prevents the completion of the due process review.”

The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has been at the forefront of calls for the committee to move forward with the Waters case. Executive director Melanie Sloan lauded the recusals on Friday.

“I don’t see how they all could have stayed on the case and decided anything about it, given that it involves potential misconduct by some of them,” said Sloan. “It sounds like they’re trying to move it to completion.”

“It’s great that they recognized this is time for them to recuse themselves and I think members of the Ethics committee need to recognize those concerns.

— This story was last updated at 1:57 p.m.