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Severe Sanction Unlikely in Waters Case


Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., has had an open ethics case since 2010 for allegedly steering financial-bailout funds to a minority-owned bank in which her husband held a stake.(HARRY HAMBURG/AP)

The Ethics Committee is signaling that it will not ask the full House to reprimand, censure, or expel Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., as a result of its long-running conflict-of-interest probe involving federal bailout money.

What exactly the committee will do will officially be revealed during a vote at a public hearing on Friday morning.


The hearing is expected to bring a conclusion, finally, to the panel's probe into whether Waters improperly intervened on behalf of a bank in which her husband had a financial stake. The bank at the heart of the matter did get $12 million in bailout money in December 2008, but Waters contends she was acting on behalf of all minority-owned banks.

If the Ethics Committee does not ask the House to consider severe disciplinary sanction against Waters, the second-ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee, would seem to have clear sailing to rise to the top Democratic spot on that panel next year with the retirement of ranking member Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass.

The announcement of the hearing came on Thursday from acting House Ethics Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and acting ranking member John Yarmuth, D-Ky., without explanation of what, precisely, its purpose was. 


Indications are strong that Waters is not facing the prospect of serious sanctions by her peers such as expulsion, censure, or even a reprimand. Friday’s hearing is not the type required by House rules to allow the Ethics Committee to request the full House to impose any of the three most-severe disciplinary sanctions against a member.

The committee could still vote take the least severe official action—that is, sending a letter of “reproval” to Waters, with no further recommendation of action. The panel could also decline to take any disciplinary action. A report on its investigation is expected to be released during or after the hearing.

For now, committee officials aren’t commenting.

“I don’t know,” Waters said when asked why she thought the hearing was called. She said she did not yet know if she would have to be present, adding, “I haven’t talked to my staff about it yet.”


Friday’s hearing will finally conclude a case that not only has cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars but also has raised questions about the integrity of the process under which the House weighs alleged improprieties by members.

Last month, the Ethics Committee extended the contract of Washington lawyer Billy Martin as outside counsel in the ongoing matter. That seemed to signal that the investigation was nowhere near wrapping up.

What prompted the hiring of Martin as outside counsel — and why resolution of the case has languished — has stemmed from the Ethics Committee’s handling of the matter. Those questions ultimately led six of its members to recuse themselves — including Chairman Jo Bonner, R-Ala., and top Democrat, Rep. Linda Sanchez of California.

Specifically, Martin was asked to lead an independent review of the concerns raised by Waters, which involved both allegations of committee rules being broken and violations of her constitutional rights.

Her claims range from allegations that the Ethics Committee’s special investigative subcommittee assigned to her case committed several procedural errors to complaints of  illegal leaking of sensitive documents, committee staff partisanship, and concerns that inappropriate or racially insensitive remarks by a former panel staffer may have biased the investigation.

In June, the Ethics Committee issued a report that acknowledged Martin essentially uncovered some violations of committee rules, but not to the level that deprived her of her constitutional rights to due process and a fair hearing if the ethics panel were to continue pressing the conflict-of-interest case.

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