Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told House Ethics Committee investigators that he granted Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, a meeting to discuss the Treasury Department’s role with Government-Sponsored Enterprises (GSE’s) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. According to the House Ethics Committee report, he allowed the meeting solely because Ms. Waters herself asked for it. This put not only Congresswoman Waters in a convenient place but also OneUnited, a bank her husband was professionally and financially vested in. A House Ethics Committee report states: (all emphasis is mine)
In an interview with the OCE, the Secretary of the Treasury Department expressed a clear recollection of Representative Waters’ phone call. He provided the following facts regarding the phone call:
a. Representative Waters expressed concern about how the Treasury Department structured the conservatorship into which Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had been placed. Representative Waters indicated that it could severely disadvantage minority-owned banks.
b. During the call, Representative Waters indicated that she had ‘‘some people in town who were important to her’’ and they needed a meeting with the Treasury Department.
The Secretary of the Treasury Department stated that the week of September 8, 2008 was extraordinarily busy given the state of the burgeoning financial crisis. Given how busy the Treasury Department was that week, the Secretary of the Treasury Department told the OCE that a meeting would not have occurred unless Representative Waters asked for it and he decided to grant it.
The meeting was granted and scheduled for September 9, 2008.
The Secretary of the Treasury Department was confident that Representative Waters did not mention a specific bank and he was certain that she did not mention any financial interest in OneUnited or any other bank.
While Ms. Waters may not have mentioned to Mr. Paulson that her husband, Sidney Williams, was on the board of directors of OneUnited at the time, and that Mr. Williams had at least about $250,000 in OneUnited bank stock, nonetheless, media reports say that OneUnited was still approved for $12.1 million in TARP bailout funds from the Treasury Department a few months after the requested September 2008 meeting.
Interestingly, the House Ethics Committee has posted a letter (above)prepared for Ms. Waters by Robert Cooper, a Senior Counsel for OneUnited, so she could “speak intelligently” about the matter to Mr. Paulson:
Representative Waters asked Mr. Cooper to prepare a document for her so that she could ‘‘speak intelligently’’ about the matter Mr. Cooper wanted to address with the Treasury when she called Secretary Paulson.12 Mr. Cooper prepared a cover letter and memorandum per Representative Waters’ request. The Board notes that although Mr. Cooper makes reference to his position as Chair- man-elect of the NBA in the body of the letter, the letter itself is written on OneUnited letterhead and is signed ‘‘Robert Patrick Cooper, Senior Counsel.’’
When it came time to organize who would attend the actual meeting, it was Mr. Cooper of OneUnited who took care of the list. Not surprisingly, only one person did not have an OneUnited affiliation. Other attendees, however, invited by the Treasury Department, came from different banking regulatory agencies:
After the meeting was granted, Representative Waters asked her Chief of Staff to follow up with the Treasury Department about the meeting. The Chief of Staff of Representative Waters then informed Mr. Cooper that the meeting had been granted. According to the Chief of Staff of Representative Waters, he left it to Mr. Cooper to decide who to invite to the meeting.
The Chief of Staff of Representative Waters told the OCE that Mr. Cooper told him who would attend the meeting before it occurred.The anticipated attendees included: Mr. Cooper, Mr. Cohee, Mr. George Lyons, counsel for the NBA, and Ms. Terri Williams, President of OneUnited.
Congresswoman Waters was well aware of the power she amassed at the September 2008 meeting, and she even boasted about attaining a cabinet level official for the meeting:
The Chief of Staff of Representative Waters described the meeting as a high level, ‘‘high priority’’ meeting, citing that at least one Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Department was in attendance. Representative Waters confirmed the significance of the meeting. When asked how often she calls a Cabinet level official such as Secretary Paulson, Representative Water’s replied that ‘‘you don’t use your chits for nothing, you call when there is an important issue.’’
AP News reports show that Ms. Waters is accused of violating:
A rule that House members may not exert improper influence that results in a personal benefit.
The government employees’ ethics code, which prohibits granting or accepting special favors, for the employee or family members, that could be viewed as influencing official actions.
A rule that members’ conduct must reflect creditably on the House.
Representative Waters has defended herself and believes she has done nothing wrong. “The record will clearly show that in advocating on behalf of minority banks, neither my office nor I benefited in any way, engaged in improper action or influenced anyone,” she said. She, like Charlie Rangel, New York Democrat, intends to fight the ethics charges from the committee.
In the meantime her words and actions could come back to haunt her, as an old C-Span video of the congresswoman have emerged showing her excoriating former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, when he was facing the Ethics Committee himself:
No we have not forgotten, we thought you had. But finally after the filing of many complaints against Speaker Newt Gingrinch, and and fourteen months later, the House Ethics Committee found the Speaker “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! ” on 1-2-3 charges of ethical violations - violating House rules by misusing official resources and the committee appointed a special outside council to investigate another serious charge about the Speaker’s political Gold Pac operations. Well, it’s about time. Believe me the American public do not appreciate double standards. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
No one should be so big, so important, so powerful they can violate the rules of this House and the laws of this country without suffering the consequences.
Newt may be Speaker; however, he too must account for any and all wrongdoing. Let’s get on with the business of finding out who Newt really is.
In the hot seat now herself, Ms. Waters intends to fight the ethics charges, likely to the dismay of Democrats who must endure on the sidelines two ethics trials of fellow party members during a campaign season.