- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2010

Rep. Maxine Waters on Thursday said she will not pursue a task force investigation into the disciplining of two House ethics committee attorneys probing allegations she improperly sought federal assistance for a bank in which her husband owned stock.

Initially brought as a “privilege resolution” to the House floor on Tuesday by the California Democrat, Mrs. Waters asked instead that the committee publicly address the many concerns being raised about the disciplining of two attorneys.

“Since then, I have had a chance to speak with dozens of members regarding concerns about the ethics process and the impact it has on this institution,” she said in a floor speech. “Regardless of region or political ideology, they all agreed we must take every opportunity we can to improve the ethics process and, by extension, increase the faith of the American people in our ability to uphold the highest standards of ethical conduct.

“We now have one such opportunity,” she said.

Mrs. Waters said that based on the advice of colleagues “whom I trust and admire,” she decided not to push for a vote on her resolution but request that the ethics committee “set the record straight, on its own accord, in a bipartisan manner.”

Her privileged resolution would have directed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to appoint a bipartisan task force “to investigate the circumstances and cause” of the ethics committee’s decision to put the two attorneys on indefinite administrative leave with pay.

C. Morgan Kim, deputy chief counsel of the committee and the lead attorney in the Waters investigation, and Stacey Sovereign, who also worked on the case, were placed on indefinite administrative leave with pay on Nov. 19, the same day the committee announced it was postponing Mrs. Waters‘ trial on ethics charges because of the discovery of new evidence that may have had “an effect” on the case. The trial, originally set to begin Nov. 29, has not been rescheduled.

Mrs. Waters has been battling with the ethics committee for months, ever since it charged her last summer with improperly trying to obtain federal bailout money for Boston-based OneUnited Bank in which her husband, Sidney Williams, owned stock. Mr. Williams had earlier been a director of the minority-owned bank.

She warned that if the information regarding the placement of the two attorneys on leave is not made public, the country would continue to see press reports and commentators across the political spectrum publicly criticizing the ethics process.

“Although the committee is built on secrecy and confidentiality, it should have the ability to be flexible and provide transparency in extraordinary circumstances,” she said.

Richard Sauber, an attorney for the two lawyers, said they had done nothing wrong and the committee had not offered an explanation as to why they were disciplined. He said his clients “have nothing to hide” and would “welcome any inquiry into the job they have done for the committee.”

Mrs. Waters has maintained that her efforts to get bailout funds were on behalf of a number of minority-owned banks — not just OneUnited — in her role as the highest ranking black woman on the House Financial Services Committee.

R. Blake Chisam, chief counsel and staff director for the ethics committee, did not respond to a request for comment. The committee, formally known as the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, does not normally comment on ongoing investigations.

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