Six members of the House Ethics Committee including its chairman have recused themselves from any matter involving Rep. Maxine Waters, including an internal investigation looking into whether the panel mishandled a two-year conflict-of-interest case against the California Democrat.
Rep. Jo Bonner, Alabama Republican who chairs the Ethics Committee, informed Speaker John Boehner, Ohio Republican, in a Friday letter, which was read on the House floor. The recusals were requested by Billy Martin, the special counsel the committee hired to look into allegations that the committee bungled the case against Mrs. Waters.
Mrs. Waters has been accused of improperly intervening on behalf of a minority-owned bank in which her husband owned stock.
"As the committee must now determine its next steps in this matter, Mr. Martin has recommended that the leadership of the current committee and four members who served on the committee in the [previous] Congress consider recusal from further proceedings in this matter," Mr. Bonner wrote. "After careful consideration, these six committee members have requested their voluntary recusal."
Mr. Bonner, four other Republicans and Rep. Linda Sanchez, a California Democrat and the ranking member of the panel, voluntarily recused themselves and asked for the appointment of six new members to serve on any subsequent committee proceeding related to the case against Mrs. Waters. The other Republicans are: Reps. Michael McCaul of Texas, Michael Conaway of Texas, Charles Dent of Pennsylvania and Gregg Harper of Mississippi.
In the letter to Mr. Boehner, Mr. Bonner stressed that Mr. Martin's request for recusals was not based on any indication of wrongdoing or inappropriate partisanship. Instead, the members agreed to recuse themselves "out of an abundance of caution and to avoid even an appearance of unfairness."
"Their voluntary recusal will eliminate the possibility of questions being raised as the partiality or bias of committee members considering this matter," Mr. Bonner wrote.
In response, Mr. Boehner appointed six news members to serve on any matter involving Mrs. Waters: Republicans Reps. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, Michael K. Simpson of Idaho, Steven C. LaTourette of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Tim Griffin of Arkansas and Democratic Representative John P. Sarbanes of Maryland. Mr. Goodlatte will serve as acting chairman and Rep. John A. Yarmuth will serve as acting ranking member for any committee convened to vet the charges against Mrs. Waters or any evidence that the committee mishandled the case against her.
In late 2010, 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 and hire Mr. Martin to sort it out when more details leaked out about internal partisan clashes on the panel over the handling of the case.
Mrs. Waters has aggressively fought the conflict-of-interest charges and has pushed for the case to be resolved. With Rep. Barney Frank, Democrat from Massachusetts, retiring at the end of next year, the fiery California Democrat is next in line to replace him as the ranking member of the powerful House Financial Services Committee.
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