Ethics Probe In Bailout Case Begins: What Is Maxine Waters Accused Of?

October 30, 2009 12:44 p.m.

Yesterday, the House ethics committee announced it is forming a special subcommittee to investigate Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) in a case involving the bailout and a bank in which her husband had a stake.

This is separate from the leaked ethics document, and the committee is taking it more seriously than many of the already-dismissed cases outlined in that document. So what is Waters, a ten-term representative and the second ranking Dem on the House Financial Services Committee, accused of?Last year, Waters asked then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to arrange a meeting between agency officials and the National Bankers Association, which represents minority-owned banks, the New York Times reported in March.

At the September meeting, two officials with OneUnited bank — Kevin Cohee, the CEO, and Robert Cooper, who was also NBA’s incoming chair — focused on the losses of Boston-based OneUnited, requesting $50 million in bailout money. In December, at a second meeting with Treasury requested by Waters, an official from OneUnited was present but the discussion centered on the general subject of minority-owned banks. Two weeks later, OneUnited got $12 million in TARP money.

Waters’ husband had been a director of OneUnited until early 2008 and owned at least $250,000 in stock in the struggling bank. Treasury officials told the Times they were not aware of those ties at the time of the meetings because Waters did not disclose her connection to the bank.

Waters has maintained that she was engaging in proper advocacy for minority-owned banks. And she released letters sent by NBA in March that appear to bolster her case.

In a statement yesterday, she said there are no facts to support the allegations of improper conduct. Here’s Waters on CNBC today being quizzed about the ethics panel’s action:

Waters: It’s true that the ethics committee has initiated an investigation to find out exactly why I contacted the treasury on behalf of minority banks who did not have access without some assistance. This is what I do. I assist minority agencies, whether they’re banks or radio stations, what have you, who don’t have access to the regulatory agencies here.

Q: So whether directly or indirectly, your call to the Treasury may have helped the bank in which your husband owns stock?

Waters: No, it did not. As a matter of fact, I do it not on behalf of a bank but only on behalf of associations. And the bank that has been referred to is but one bank of many banks that is is represented by the association and absolutely there is nothing wrong with that. Let the investigation go on, I have no problems with that.

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