House panel to hold public ethics hearing Friday for Rep. Waters

The House Ethics Committee will hold a public hearing Friday on ethics allegations against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

The panel has been investigating for the past three years whether Waters violated House rules by attempting to secure federal help during the financial crisis for a bank in which her husband owns stock.

Waters has maintained her innocence, and the ethics probe has been weighted by problems.

As the committee moved toward holding a trial for Waters in late 2010, it halted its work abruptly and placed two of its lead attorneys on administrative leave. Shortly afterward, 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 had acted inappropriately in the Waters case.

Martin spent nearly $1 million reviewing more than 100,000 pages of documents and conducting 26 interviews with people involved, including every member of the committee and the panel’s investigative subcommittee in the 111th Congress.

He eventually determined that the committee was not guilty of any wrongdoing and that Waters' rights were not violated.

The committee has not made Martin’s entire report public, despite multiple pleas from Waters, her House colleagues, and watchdog groups, who have also complained about the unusually long time it has taken the secretive panel to complete its investigation of the California Democrat.

Waters has maintainede that she deserved to have a “speedy trial,” such as guaranteed in the criminal judicial process under the Sixth Amendment. But the committee said that the amendment does not apply to committee proceedings and that lawmakers under investigation by the panel do not have the same rights as a criminal defendants, in this regard.

The timing of the hearing has raised some eyebrows. Waters holds a relatively safe congressional seat, but with less than seven weeks before Election Day the committee’s decision could influence voters before they head to the polls. Waters is also next in line to take over as Democratic head of the House Financial Services Committee, and a guilty verdict could jeopardize her ascension. 

Updated at 1:53 p.m.