Sinking Ship? Waters Seizes On Leaked Secret Ethics Committee Docs

July 18, 2011 6:56 a.m.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) is contemplating her next move in response to a game-changing Ethics Committee leak of hundreds of documents detailing the alleged internal mishandling of her case.

Waters is expected to demand copies of the documents from the panel as early as today, a spokesman told TPM Monday morning after a report in Politico quoted internal Ethics Committee e-mails and memos that paint a picture of a committee consumed by partisan dysfunction and accusations of professional misconduct surrounding her case.“I have long since lost faith in the committee’s ability to be fair and transparent,” Waters said in a statement to POLITICO after learning of the memos. “If true, these accusations fly in the face of objectivity and should concern every member of the House. Even more troubling is the committee’s refusal of my and numerous ethics watchdogs’ requests to investigate their own misconduct. Given what appears to be politically motivated and gross misconduct by the committee, the committee must immediately conclude this seemingly manufactured case.”

Waters has been engaged in an intense battle with the ethics committee, which last year charged her with three ethics violations for intervening on behalf of a minority-owned bank in its request for bailout funds in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis. Her husband owned more than $350,000 worth of stock in the bank at the time.

Waters has vigorously denied the charges but her case has been on hold since last November, when the Ethics Committee abruptly postponed her public trial indefinitely. At the time, the panel said only that it had uncovered new evidence forcing a delay, but in the days following the announcement, reports surfaced that the lead attorney on the Waters’ case and an assisting attorney had been placed on administrative leave.

Ethics watchdogs called on the panel to explain the decision to discipline the attorneys amid partisan infighting and charges and countercharges that they bungled the case. But the panel was in transition after Republicans regained control of the House in November. Rep. Jo Bonner (R-AL), the ranking member of the ethics panel, was preparing to chair the committee while Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), the chairwoman during the Waters’ turmoil, stepped down to the ranking position and eventually left the panel entirely. Blake Chisam, Lofgren’s chief counsel, also left the panel last fall and returned to private practice.

In the intervening eight months, Waters’ case was stalled with no public explanation for the action taken against the attorneys on her case, who also have since left the panel. Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) took over for Lofgren as the ranking member, and the panel struggled to find a qualified chief counsel to replace Chisam and finally made the hire a month ago.

Ethics watchdogs have repeatedly called on the panel to appoint a special prosecutor to handle the case, but other longtime ethics experts have said the new chief counsel and the team of additional attorneys he has tapped to fill vacancies on the panel are independent enough from the panel’s problems last fall to handle the case.

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