Waters To Ethics Panel: Dismiss Case — Or Else

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July 18, 2011 2:02 p.m.

An attorney for Rep. Maxine Waters’ (D-CA) is calling on the Ethics Committee to dismiss immediately the charges against her in the wake of an unprecedented leak of secret internal committee documents providing a blow-by-blow account of the panel’s alleged bungling of the case.

The scores of Ethics Committee e-mails and memos, reported by Politico Monday with links to the documents, paint a picture of a committee consumed by partisan dysfunction and accusations of professional misconduct surrounding Waters’ case.“Today’s Politico story, and accompanying documents, leave no doubt that the House Ethics Committee violated both its own rules and Representative Waters’ constitutional rights during its investigation of her matter last Congress,” Waters’ attorney Stan Brand said in a statement. “Its behavior also demonstrates that the Committee was driven to bring a flawed case and to ignore Committee rules imposed to insure fairness and due process.”

Unlike the U.S. judicial system, Brand explained, the House Ethics Committee process does not provide a mechanism for filing complaints about the way the investigation was conducted or violations of internal committee rules by attorneys and lawmakers serving on the panel. Nevertheless, the panel should dismiss the case against Waters as soon as possible, Brand said, warning that Waters and her legal team would “explore all of our options to bring this matter to a conclusion.”

Waters may have no formal way to file a complaint against the committee, but throughout the investigation and after the formal charges were filed, she did not shy away from using her status as a high-profile member of Congress to try to exert pressure and sway members to her side. At the very least, Waters could call on Rep. Jo Bonner (R-AL), who chairs the panel and was implicated in the leaked memos, to step down from the position and could repeatedly raise the issue of dismissal and her allegations of mistreatment on the floor of the House and capture the attention of the media and many of her peers already wary of the ethics committee’s policing power.

“Unfortunately, as would happen in prosecutorial misconduct of this nature in the judicial system, there is no federal judge to order dismissal,” Brand said. “Nonetheless, based on the facts of the case and the record of Committee misconduct, the only remedy that vindicates the principals of the quasi-judicial functions of the Committee is immediate dismissal with prejudice.”

“No other remedy exists to cure this misconduct,” he continued. “Given that both current Members and staff are implicated in these documents, any other suggested remedy would lack legal credibility and would confirm an unprecedented level of bias against my client. Given this sample of damaging evidence of the Committees misconduct, we fully expect the Committee to act in good faith in this matter. If need be, we will explore all of our options to bring this matter to a conclusion.”

Earlier, Waters issued a lengthy statement arguing that the allegations “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,” she said. “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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