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Waters accuses ethics panel of having weak case after calling off her trial

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) accused the ethics committee
of having a weak case that is unraveling after the panel abruptly cancelled her public trial.

“The committee’s decision to cancel the hearing and put it
off indefinitely demonstrates that the committee does not have a strong case
and would not be able to prove any violation has occurred,” she said in a
lengthy statement Friday reacting to the announcement.

{mosads}She also said she was disappointed the committee once again
postponed the hearing and said it showed “a complete disregard for due process
and fairness.”

“For over a year, I have cooperated with the investigation
and I have consistently asked for a public hearing on this matter,” she said.
“I remain eager to present my case and demonstrate to my constituents and all
Americans that I have not violated any House rules.”

The House ethics committee announced Friday it has delayed
indefinitely Waters trial because the panel had discovered new evidence in the
case.

It is unclear from the committee’s statement whether the
trial will move forward and what evidence was discovered.

According to a joint statement from Rep. Zoe Lofgren
(D-Calif.), who chairs the ethics committee, and ranking member Jo Bonner
(R-Ala.), the case is being referred back to the subcommittee investigating the
matter. Waters’s trial was set to begin on Nov. 29.

“The committee voted to recommit the matter regarding
Representative Maxine Waters to the investigative subcommittee due to materials
discovered that may have had an effect on the investigative subcommittee’s
transmittal to the committee,” they wrote. “As a result, the
adjudicatory subcommittee no longer has jurisdiction over this matter and the
adjudicatory hearing previously scheduled for November 29, 2010 will not be
held.”

Waters, a 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.

Waters’s preparations for the public trial stand in stark
contrast to Rep. Charles Rangel’s (D-N.Y.) experience this week. Unlike Rangel,
who faced a jury of his peers without legal representation, Waters planned to
have an experienced legal team by her side and was prepared to mount a
vigorous, detailed defense.

Her chief of staff, Mikael Moore, attended the Rangel trial
and took voluminous notes during the proceedings. Moore figures prominently in
the investigation; the ethics committee has scrutinized his e-mail contacts
with the Federal Reserve, as well as One United executives. But Moore, Water’s
grandson, also has spent months preparing a legal defense and assisting her
attorneys, well-known ethics expert Stanley Brand and his associate Andrew
Herman, in preparing the case.


Waters had planned to rely mainly on Brand and Herman to
present her defense before the ethics adjudicatory committee, but she and Moore
were also planning to serve as witnesses and make their case directly to the
panel.

Rangel this week complained about not having a chance to set
up a legal defense funds so he could afford to hire a new attorney when he and
his legal team parted ways in October after he paid them more than $2 million
over the course of two years. In contrast, Waters opened a legal defense fund
in September and held a fundraiser in October that raised nearly $100,000,
according to a knowledgeable source.

Waters had planned on the entire legal defense costing
$300,000, a small fraction of Rangel’s legal bill. Rangel’s case was far
longer, involving 13 counts of House ethics violations, compared to the three
charges Waters faces. Yet, Waters also chose a more pared down legal team
consisting of two attorneys who focus primarily on Congressional ethics,
instead of a legal team from a pricey firm specializing in white-collar crime.

The decision is a setback for the ethics committee, which
had hoped to conclude the Waters trial during the lame-duck session of
Congress. The announcement comes one day after the committee recommended the
House censure Rangel for committing 11 violations of House ethics rules.

In her statement Friday, Waters said the new material in
question was a document the committee has had since Oct. 29, and argued that it
didn’t provide any new “significant” information. Without spelling out exactly
what the document is, Waters said it shows only that she was working to ensure
that the bill that awarded the money to OneUnited was drafted to assist small
and minority institutions generally.

“The document does not reflect any action on behalf of any
specific company,” she said. “Although the Committee continues to insist that
the ‘small bank language’ was drafted to benefit only one institution, the
facts do not support that assertion; in fact, the documentary record directly
contradicts it.”

Waters also said she is puzzled by the committee’s delay.

“If this evidence is so damning, the Committee should
present its case before the public, as we asked them to do when I first learned
of their desire to postpone the hearing,” she said. “Apparently the Committee
now recognizes, as I have maintained, that there was no benefit, no improper
action, no failure to disclose, no one influenced, and there is no case.”

Late in August, Waters demanded that the ethics committee
stop gathering new evidence against her. The ethics committee’s announcement
Friday may have to do with additional evidence discovered during this process —
either evidence that would have helped exonerate her or material that
complicates the case because it was discovered after formal charges were made
against her.

Waters’s attorneys sent a letter to the ethics committee
taking issue with the panel’s ongoing investigative activities after the formal
probe was over and Waters was charged with violating House rules.

“Such inquiry violates both the Committee’s rules and
comparable federal criminal procedure and raises significant questions about
the sufficiency of the evidence that the Investigative Subcommittee replied
[sic] upon when it issued the charges contained in the SAV [statement of
alleged violation],” wrote Brand and Herman. “Most alarmingly, it calls into
question the impartiality and good faith of the Investigative Subcommittee.”

The lawyers cited an ethics committee document request to
Waters’s office that aides received Aug. 17 and ongoing contacts and interviews
with witnesses. The information requested, they argue, relates solely to
matters addressed in the statement of alleged violation.

In addition, a top ethics committee aide threatened Waters
with a subpoena if she did not voluntarily provide the documents in question,
according to Brand and Herman.

In her statement Friday, Waters accused the committee of
breaking its own rules that prohibit any amendments to the statement of alleged
violation, a charging document akin to an indictment, after it is transmitted
to the adjudicatory committee.

“There is no provision or authority for the committee to
take this action, but the same body which is charged with interpreting the
rules now seems to be guilty of making them up as it goes along,” she said.
“Neither the letter sent to me nor the statement on the committee website cites
any rule or clear rationale for this decision.”

—This story was updated at 5:40 p.m.

Jordan Fabian contributed to this report

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