- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2010

The House ethics committee will accuse Rep. Maxine Waters of breaking the chamber’s rules after a year-long investigation into allegations she sought the Treasury Department’s help for a bank in which her husband was invested, the committee said Monday.

The announcement was made less than a week after the committee announced 13 ethics charges against Rep. Charles B. Rangel, and threatens to dog Democrats in the run-up to November’s elections. With two senior black lawmakers facing charges, it has raised questions about whether black House members are being targeted by ethics officials.

Ms. Waters, a California Democrat in her 10th term in Congress, challenged the finding, saying she did not benefit from her advocacy. She said she’s opted for a public hearing to try to clear her name.

“I simply will not be forced to admit to something I did not do and instead have chosen to respond to charges made by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct in a public hearing,” she said.

In a short notice, the ethics committee said it will convene an adjudicatory panel at some time, and released an 80-page report by the advisory Office of Congressional Ethics.

The ethics office’s report said Ms. Waters requested in 2008 that Treasury Department officials meet with representatives from the National Bankers Association. But in that meeting and other follow-ups, “the discussion centered on a single bank - OneUnited. Representative Waters‘ husband had been a board member of OneUnited from 2004 to 2008 and, at the time of the meeting, was a stock holder of the bank.”

The office said Ms. Waters even seemed to acknowledge the conflict of interest in a conversation with a fellow member, identified only as “Representative A,” telling her colleague that she knew she should say no to OneUnited’s requests for help, but the situation bothered her. The colleague warned her to “stay out of it” and promised to take up the cause himself, but Ms. Waters did involve herself anyway, the ethics office said.

The new charges were announced just days after House members left Washington for a six-week summer break.

Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, did not comment on the specifics, saying the ethics process is “bipartisan, confidential and independent.”

Republicans said the new charges will be damaging to Mrs. Pelosi, who made cleaning up bad conduct a major campaign priority in 2006 as Democrats were seeking to capture the House.

“Like Chairman Rangel, this is a glaring example of Speaker Pelosi’s most glaring broken promise: to ‘drain the swamp’ in Washington,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

Last week, as proceedings against Mr. Rangel, former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, were beginning, Mrs. Pelosi told reporters that the swamp has been drained because House Republican leaders from earlier this decade are no longer in the chamber.

She also drew a distinction between the charges against individual Democratic members and what she said was a pattern of abuses from the top of the former Republican leadership.

In response to the ethics office report, Ms. Waters said she’s been an advocate for minority-owned banks for years and that her efforts were consistent with that.

She said she made one phone call asking for Treasury officials to meet with the National Bankers Association, and that she did not benefit from the move, particularly because the meeting “resulted in no action.”

“The suggestion that I could gain personally from one phone call made to assist the National Bankers Association in getting a meeting with the Treasury Department is not credible,” she said in a response released Monday afternoon.

With both Ms. Waters and Mr. Rangel, a New York Democrat, facing charges, some lawmakers wondered whether ethics officials are targeting black lawmakers.

One unnamed black House member told Politico there is a “dual standard” for black lawmakers.

Under the House’s system the Office of Congressional Ethics receives complaints and investigates them, but can take no action. It forwards recommendations to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, or the ethics committee, which conducts its own investigation.

The committee often will try to work out a penalty in agreement with the accused party, but both Mr. Rangel and Ms. Waters have instead sought public trials.

House Democratic leaders reportedly tried to press Mr. Rangel to accept a deal, but he balked at having to accept blame for all the violations with which he was charged. By the time a deal reportedly was reached, Republicans said it was too late and the case must go to trial.

The ethics committee is split evenly between the majority and minority parties, so at least one Republican would have to approve of any deal.

Some Democrats have called for Mr. Rangel to resign, and this weekend President Obama said in a television interview that he should end his career “with dignity.” A White House spokesman wouldn’t elaborate on Monday, telling reporters that Mr. Obama was not trying to influence the course of events.

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