House panel set to clear Rep. Maxine Waters of ethics charges

House panel set to clear Rep. Maxine Waters of ethics charges

The House Ethics Committee has completed a report clearing Rep. Maxine Waters of all ethics charges after nearly three years of investigating the California Democrat.

At a rare public hearing for Waters on Friday, members of the secretive Ethics panel said they were prepared to issue a report finding the lawmaker innocent of allegations that she tried to secure federal money during the financial crisis for a bank in which her husband owned stock.

Waters cannot be formally cleared until the panel votes on its report. The committee has until the House adjourns on Friday evening to send its report to the clerk or it must wait until next Tuesday, when the chamber reconvenes in a pro forma session.

The panel is also considering the fate of Waters’s chief of staff and grandson, Mikael Moore. The committee is threatening to sanction the staff member with a letter of reproval for using his position to assist One United Bank, where Waters’s husband owned $350,000 in stock. The letter would reprove Moore for allegedly using his office for personal gain, dispensing favors and bringing discredit against the House.

After nearly three hours of questioning Moore, the committee moved into a private executive session to discuss his testimony and possibly vote on whether to issue him a letter of reproval.

Waters, who sat immediately behind Moore for the entire hearing, told reporters as she left the hearing room that she was waiting to comment on the morning's events until after the committee had voted.

The committee's report determined that Waters had taken significant steps to remove herself from negotiations involving One United Bank's bailout, including alerting Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the then-chairman of the House Financial Services Committee about the possible conflict of interest.

Frank advised Waters to refrain from involving herself in talks between One United Bank and the Treasury Department, and on Friday the veteran Massachusetts Democrat lauded the Ethics panel's findings.

"I was pleased but not surprised that the House Ethics Committee found no reason to bring any charges against my colleague Maxine Waters," said Frank in a statement.

"As the Ethics Committee has made clear, neither Representative Waters nor I ever intervened specifically to try to influence any decision by the financial regulators as to whether or not such funds should be advanced."

Moore had been grilled in questioning by committee members Reps. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteFight breaks out between Jordan, Nadler over rules about showing video at Garland hearing The job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line MORE (R-Va.), Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Donna Edwards (D-Md.) about whether he went against Waters’s request to not take any action on behalf of One United Bank because of the potential conflict of interest.

LaTourette asked Moore whether he would prefer to have the committee launch an investigative subcommittee into the allegations against him rather than move forward with a letter of reproval. The formality of an investigative subcommittee would give Moore a chance to have an official trial, but could lead to a more serious punishment if he is found guilty.

Moore said that despite how badly he wanted to fight the case, he would opt to accept the letter of reproval over the launching of an investigative subcommittee.

“My heavy heart is around the idea that, whether it’s a letter of reproval or someone saying that I knowingly and intentionally used the congresswoman’s office for personal gain [and] that I disrespected the House, is a very difficult pill to swallow,” said Moore.

“And as you can probably tell, the way that I’ve been trained ... would tell you that in normal circumstances I would fight tooth and nail to the end. But in this circumstance, I would say no.”

LaTourette said he wasn’t taking the issue lightly when considering how to vote.

“This is a big deal,” he said. “We’re talking about your reputation. We’re talking about your members’ reputation.”

During a break in the proceedings, Moore’s lawyer, Andrew Herman, told reporters he was encouraged by the substance of the hearing, saying that his client was being treated fairly.

If Waters is cleared, it would all but guarantee that the veteran lawmaker will take over next year as the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee after Frank retires.

Waters has maintained her innocence all along and balked at the lengthy ethics process, which has been bogged down by a series of allegations that the committee’s staff acted in a politically biased manner.

After accepting a recommendation from the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate the matter in 2009, the ethics panel moved to hold a trial for Waters in late 2010. But before the trial began, 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.

Charges of improprieties led the panel to hire outside counsel Billy Martin, who after a year-long, nearly $1 million investigation found the committee acted fairly and that Waters’s rights were not violated.

Martin’s report was unable to firmly determine when Waters told Moore not to take any specific action to help One United Bank. And Moore argues in part that because the committee can’t nail down when he was told not to interfere, he could have taken the actions he’s accused of without knowing that Waters wanted him to refrain.

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 maintained that she deserved to have the same “speedy trial” guaranteed in the criminal judicial process under the Sixth Amendment. But the committee said the amendment does not apply to its proceedings and that lawmakers under investigation by the panel do not have the same rights as a criminal defendant. 

—This story was posted at 10:08 a.m. and updated at 4:44 p.m.