The House has prolonged its three-year ethics investigation of Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California, yet again but is pledging to try to wrap up the case by the end of the year.
The Ethics Committee on Thursday announced a unanimous decision to extend the contract for Billy Martin, the outside counsel overseeing the case against Mrs. Waters, for another six months.
"Mr. Martin will continue to work closely with the committee as it attempts to complete this matter," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia who serves as the acting chairman of the ethics panel investigating Mrs. Waters, and Rep. John Yarmuth, the ranking Democrat from Kentucky.
"We are fully committed to resolving this matter as early in the remainder of this Congress as is possible to do in a thorough, fair an deliberate manner," they added, noting that Mr. Martin's contract is expected to cost $500,000 and has a termination date at the end of this Congress.
The case against Mrs. Waters, which focuses on whether she tried to steer federal bailout funds to a minority-owned bank where her husband was a shareholder, has continued for years in partly because she fought the charges and partly because the ethics panel became mired in allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and political maneuvering.
The latest delay in resolving the case could hurt Mrs. Waters' chances of taking over the ranking member spot on the House Financial Services Committee, where she would be poised to become chairman if Democrats win back control of the House in the next Congress.
With an ethics cloud still hovering over her, Mrs. Waters may have a difficult time convincing colleagues to give her the nod.
If the case is wrapped up and she is absolved of any wrongdoing by January, when the parties fill committee vacancies, the 12-term House veteran would be well-positioned to win the slot. But if she is found guilty on any counts, there would be little time to recover from the negative publicity.
The panel delayed Mrs. Waters' public trail in the fall of 2010 and hired Mr. Martin to sort it all out when details about internal turmoil over the case leaked out.
In early June, the Ethics Committee said Mr. Martin had concluded that Mrs. Waters' due process rights had not been violated and the case would proceed.
Even though he found that several of her complaints had merit, Mr. Martin said the accusations of prosecutorial misconduct and due-process violations either did not apply to the House Ethics Committee, which is not subject to the same Constitutional protections that apply to the U.S. legal system, or did not bias the case against her.
Mr. Martin was hired in July 2011 on a six-month contract after news leaked the previous fall that then-Ethics Committee Chairman Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from California, had tried to fire at least two of the top professional staffers on the investigation.
The partisan tensions and bickering were so corrosive to the process that all five Republicans on the Ethics Committee, as well as Rep. Linda Sanchez, the ranking Democrat on the panel, decided to step down from the case and recuse themselves from anything having to do with it.
Mr. Martin had recommended the recusals after looking into the matter. At the time, Mrs. Waters and members on the panel hoped for a quick resolution to the matter, but the explosive case has lingered for more than a year, requiring two extensions of Mr. Martin's contract, prompting protests from members of the Congressional Black Caucus that Mrs. Waters was being treated unfairly.
Her supporters also griped about Mr. Martin's decision to leave his law firm to launch his own firm while on contract with the House to resolve the case against Mrs. Waters.
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