Six lawmakers on the House Ethics Committee, including the top Democrat and all five Republicans, are recusing themselves from the investigation of Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., at the recommendation of the outside special counsel looking into the case.
Ethics Committee Chairman Jo Bonner, R-Ala., called it an “extraordinary measure” to attempt to erase any doubts about the partiality of the watchdog panel, in a letter read on the House floor on Friday.
Bonner stressed that Billy Martin, the special counsel in the case, has “not discovered any evidence to indicate actual bias or partiality” in the case but that the recusals were necessary “out of an abundance of caution.”
In the letter, Bonner also revealed that at least one key witness refused to answer questions about the probe, citing Fifth Amendment rights -- a new twist in a case that has dragged on for nearly three years.
Substitute lawmakers were immediately appointed to continue the probe, which has been frozen since last summer when Martin began looking into how the panel handled the case. The Bonner letter indicates that Martin has not completed the first phase of his probe: whether Waters’s due-process rights were violated by the ethics panel.
Waters is accused of helping arrange a meeting between Treasury officials and minority-owned banks during the 2008 financial crisis, including a bank in which her husband held a stake. That bank received $12 million in federal bailout funds.
The committee voted to charge her with ethics violations, but the trial was postponed amid allegations of investigative misconduct.
The recusals are to ensure the “greatest public confidence in the ultimate conclusion of the committee,” the statement from Bonner read.
According to the letter, Martin said each current employee of the Ethics Committee, and every current and former lawmaker on the panel, consented to an interview if one was requested.
But “one necessary witness has refused to appear voluntarily” and, when subpoenaed, refused to answer any questions, citing rights under the Fifth Amendment.
The letter does not name the witness. But two of the key figures in the case are former employees of the ethics panel who were placed on indefinite leave in late 2010.
To resolve the case, Martin recommended that no lawmakers or staff member involved in the case during the last Congress “be involved in further proceedings.”
The other recusals include Bonner and the ranking Democrat, Rep. Linda Sanchez of California, and Republican Reps. Michael McCaul of Texas, Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, Gregg Harper of Mississippi, and Mike Conaway of Texas.
They will be replaced by Republican Reps. Tim Griffin of Arkansas, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Steven LaTourette of Ohio, and Mike Simpson of Idaho.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., will serve as acting chairman in the case and Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., will act as the ranking Democrat.