A coalition of reform groups wants the House Committee on Ethics to resume its work on the long-pending investigation of Rep. Maxine Waters and provide a public accounting of the status of the case against the California Democrat.
In a statement Friday, the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters and Public Citizen said no public notice of the status of the 2-year-old case has been provided "since the abrupt and unexplained cancellation" of a scheduled hearing in November.
In a letter to Rep. Jo Bonner, Alabama Republican and ethics committee chairman, and its ranking Democrat, Linda T. Sanchez of California, the coalition said the "unexplained delay undermines confidence in the ethics process and is unfair to all parties involved in the case."
"Your committee set up an investigatory subcommittee last October, but outside of the abrupt cancellation of a hearing, there has been no mention of the case," the coalition said. "Still no hearings have been held, and ... there is no indication about how or when the committee plans to resolve this case.
"We renew our request that the committee issue a public statement regarding whether it has resumed work on this case or, if not, when it intends to do so, and when the committee anticipates completing its adjudication of this case," it said.
Mrs. Waters is accused of violating House rules by intervening on behalf of a minority-owned bank with ties to her family.
Initially, House investigators said she "improperly" exerted influence to help bail out a bank in which her husband held stock. They said she violated conflict-of-interest rules by repeatedly lobbying the Treasury Department for bailout money on behalf of OneUnited in which her husband held as much as $350,000 in stock as of June 2008. The bank received a $12 million slice of the taxpayer-funded Wall Street bailout.
Her husband, Sidney Williams, served on OneUnited's board of directors from January 2004 until April 2008. The government's takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac cut the value of his holdings in half and ultimately threatened to make them "worthless," according to investigators.
Mrs. Waters has fiercely proclaimed her innocence and condemned a decision by the ethics committee to put off indefinitely a hearing into charges against her. In a blistering statement in November, she said the panel had shown a "complete disregard for due process and fairness" by delaying her case. She also asserted that "new evidence" had been given to the committee supporting her position that her actions were aimed at minority institutions in general and never intended to aid any individual firm.
The ethics committee postponed a long-scheduled Nov. 29 hearing in the case without explanation. The panel's senior Democratic and Republican members said at the time that the session was being put off because of unspecified new evidence that had surfaced.
That same month, the Associated Press reported that a newly discovered email written by Mrs. Waters' chief of staff in September 2008 may have thrown a cloud over the case.
The email, written by Mikael Moore, who also is Mrs. Waters' grandson, went to staff aides, who were writing legislation that became the George W. Bush administration's controversial $700 billion TARP - Troubled Asset Relief Program - bailout for banks, insurance companies, auto companies and other financial institutions. The email does not mention OneUnited and says the congresswoman was "under the explicit impression" that provisions affecting small and minority-owned banks were still in the bailout bill.
"If there is any material or technical changes to the language as last agreed upon, please alert me as soon as possible so that Rep. Waters has an opportunity to weigh in," Mr. Moore wrote.
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