The House Ethics Committee dismissed charges of alleged wrongdoing against California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, ending an arduous, three-year, investigation that saw five Ethics Committee members recused and cost taxpayers as much as $1.3 million.
Waters has been accused of improperly seeking government assistance for OneUnited Bank, a minority-owned bank in which her husband held a financial interest, during the 2008 financial meltdown. The bank received $12 million in bailout funds. The case of Waters, D-Calif., is focused on whether she tried to aid a troubled bank where her husband owns stock. The investigation has been in limbo for eight months, because the two lawyers and the former chief counsel left the ethics committee. All five Democrats from last year quit the committee over the communications with Republicans, forcing the panel to start over with new lawmakers and staff.
Waters, who has served 11 terms as a Los Angeles-area congresswoman, repeated maintained that her efforts were part of a broader push to help minority-controlled financial institutions during the nation's financial crisis.
Friday, a special counsel, attorney Billy Martin, determined there was "not sufficient evidence in the record to prove violations" of House rules; however, Martin did conclude that Waters Chief of Staff Mikael Moore -- the congresswoman's grandson -- engaged in "specific actions" that "are in fact violations of the standards and rules of the House regarding conflicts of interest."
In the summer of 2011, Martin was hired to take charge of the investigation -- at a cost of up to $800,000. Last month, House Ethics Committee members voted unanimously to spend as much as another $500,000, further retaining Martin as special counsel.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, head of a subcommittee examining the matter,
Moore insists he was unaware of Waters' financial interest in OneUnited when he repeatedly sought to intervene on the bank's behalf.
The ethics panel, following Martin's guidance, may issue a letter of reproval to Moore.
Both Waters and her husband attended the hearing, but did not address the panel or speak to members of the media. Moore told panel members he had a "heavy heart," and said the idea that he "disrespected the House is a very difficult pill to swallow."
Over the course of the ethics panel's lengthy investigation, Waters accused committee members of violating her constitutional right to a speedy and public trial, and railed against the secrecy surrounding the panel's proceedings.
The initial investigation of Waters was led by the nonpartisan Office of Congressional Ethics, which was established in 2008 at the prompting of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California. The office referred the matter to the House Ethics Committee in the summer of 2009.
Waters initially demanded that the case be dismissed on grounds that partisanship has made it impossible to give her a fair proceeding. The committee has five members from each party and its investigative staff is supposed to be non-partisan. The five Republicans from last year remained on the committee.
Waters said after the announcement, "For the first time in the history of the ethics committee, it has initiated an inquiry into its own misconduct and taken the extraordinary step of hiring an outside counsel to explore the depth and breadth of the committee's misconduct."
In February, all five Republicans on the Ethics Committee took the exceptional step of recusing themselves from the case, which has never happened in the panel's 45-year history. California Rep. Linda Sanchez (Calif.), ranking Democrat on the committee, also recused herself from the matter. Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Mich.) and John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) took over as acting chairman and ranking member for the Waters case alone. The two lawmakers chaired Friday's hearing, according to a statement released by the Ethics Committee today.