The Washington Times - December 16, 2011, 04:51PM

The House Ethics Committee has formally extended the special counsel investigation into conflict-of-interest allegations against Rep. Maxine Waters and whether the panel itself overzealously pursued the case against the California Democrat.

In a joint statement by Ethics Committee Chairman Jo Bonner, an Alabama Republican, and ranking Democrat Rep. Linda Sanchez of California, the panel announced the extension of outside counsel Billy Martin’s contract until July 31, 2012. It also authorized $50,000 to $500,000 in additional funds for Mr. Martin to pursue the case, although the committee noted that the probe may end sooner.

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The panel hired Mr. Martin in July and authorized him to charge up to $500,000 for his services with the goal of completing the probe by Jan. 2, 2012. The panel said Mr. Martin’s costs have amounted to $300,000 so far.

“The committee’s goal has been and remains to resolve the matter as expeditiously as possible, but due to unavoidable delay, additional time is needed for outside counsel to complete his initial review and report his findings and conclusions to the full committee, which will then determine whether the matter should proceed,” Mr. Bonner and Ms. Sanchez said in the statement.

So far, the panel said, Mr. Martin and his team have performed “a substantial amount of work to move this matter forward,” noting that he has reviewed tens of thousand of pages of documents, interviewed numerous witnesses and conducted extensive legal research.

The two-year probe became mired in allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and partisan maneuvering, forcing the House Ethics Committee to delay Mrs. Waters’ public trial a year ago and hire a special prosecutor to sort it all out when more details leaked out earlier this year.

Mrs. Waters has aggressively fought the charges — allegations that she improperly intervened on behalf of a minority-owned bank in which her husband owned stock — and has pushed for the case to be resolved quickly. With Rep. Barney Frank, Democrat from Massachusetts, retiring at the end of next year, the California Democrat is next in line to replace him as the ranking member of the powerful House Financial Services Committee.

Mrs. Waters said she was disappointed that the entire ethics matter has yet to be resolved, and highlighted the fact that Mr. Martin’s first job is to review the allegations of prosecutorial abuse leveled against the committee’s handling of her case.

“The House and the American people should be concerned, as we are, that the extent of the committee’s misconduct and the erosion of Rep. Waters’ due process rights may be so pervasive, that it may take special counsel more than a year to review the extent of the committees wrongdoing,” said Mrs. Waters’ spokesperson.