Outside counsel for Rep. Waters case may cost taxpayers $1.3M

The House Ethics Committee could end up spending more than $1 million on an outside counsel’s investigation of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and the panel itself.

The secretive committee on Thursday voted to extend the contract of outside counsel Billy Martin, who has cost more than $800,000 since being hired last July to continue investigating allegations against Waters and the ethics panel itself.

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Though Martin announced in June that his investigation found no wrongdoing on the part of the Ethics Committee — after charges arose that the panel might have acted in a prejudicial manner towards Waters — the panel announced on Thursday that it has voted to pay Martin up to an additional $500,000 and to extend his contract to the end of the year.

If Martin uses all of that money, the final tally for taxpayers would be at least $1.3 million.

“It is the intent of the Committee in this matter that the final resolution and report should thoroughly address the many questions that have been raised,” said acting Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and acting ranking member John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) in a statement.

Six lawmakers on the House Ethics Committee voluntarily recused themselves from the Waters case in February because they sat on the panel that was under question and wanted to avoid any conflict of interest in deciding their own fate at the end of Martin’s probe.

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 hired Martin to investigate whether members and staff on the panel acted inappropriately in the Waters case.