The House Ethics Committee officially exonerated Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, in a 3-year-old conflict-of-interest case involving her work on behalf of minority-owned banks despite her husband's financial stake in one of them.
Mrs. Waters has vigorously fought the charges, and the panel's long-awaited decision removes an ethical cloud that threatened to jeopardize her quest for the top Democratic spot on the powerful House Financial Services Committee. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who holds the top spot on the committee, is retiring, and Mrs. Waters is the next most-senior Democrat on the panel.
"It appears that Rep. Waters recognized and made efforts to avoid a conflict of interest with respect to OneUnited [Bank]," the committee said Tuesday.
The panel was more critical of Mrs. Waters' chief of staff and grandson, Mikael Moore, finding that he knew or should have known that two emails he sent advocating for OneUnited Bank created a conflict of interest because Mrs. Waters' husband owned $350,000 in stock in the bank.
Still, the Ethics Committee only issued Mr. Moore, 34, a letter of reproval, the lightest disciplinary action at its disposal. The committee unanimously voted to issue the letter, finding Mr. Moore guilty of using his office for personal gain, dispensing favors and bringing discredit on the House of Representatives.
The panel issued the letter after holding a rare public hearing for Mr. Moore on Friday, in which the chief of staff aggressively challenged the panel's case against him, repeatedly pointing out that the ethics committee never established when Mrs. Waters ordered him to stop working on OneUnited issues so it could not say whether he had violated the order by sending two emails advocating for the bank to aides on the Financial Services Committee.
The case against Mrs. Waters has continued for years after allegations of prosecutorial misconduct within the Ethics Committee surfaced and delayed an initial public trial scheduled for the fall of 2010. The panel last year took the unusual step of hiring an outside counsel to review the allegations that the panel had mishandled the case against Mrs. Waters and then to weigh the evidence against her and Mr. Moore.
Ultimately, Mr. Martin recommended the panel clear Mrs. Waters of any wrongdoing. When Mrs. Waters discovered OneUnited's prominent role in requesting bailout assistance from the Treasury Department, she informed Mr. Frank, who was serving as chairman of the Financial Services Committee at the time, and handed the issue off to him, Mr. Martin found.
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