The House Ethics Committee announced on Wednesday that it voted unanimously to hire Washington attorney Billy Martin as outside counsel to “review, advise and assist” the panel in the ongoing investigation of Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.
The move follows reports of internal committee dysfunction and accusations of professional misconduct that some think may taint its further handling of the probe. Some good-government groups on Wednesday urged the panel to let outside counsel take over—a move the committee appears to have either agreed to or already decided to do on its own.
The committee’s announcement said Waters and her attorney have been informed of the decision. The case focuses on whether she improperly intervened on behalf of a bank where her husband owned stock and had served on the board.
"To be clear, today’s action is a recognition by the committee, that its investigation of me was misguided, flawed and could go no further," Waters said Wednesday. "I am confident that the counsel’s review of the committee’s misconduct will conclude that my rights were violated and further investigation of me is not warranted.”
But Waters and her lawyer have threatened to go to court if the Ethics Committee continued to pursue the case against her, amid the allegations of misconduct among its staff investigators.
“The committee has not taken the allegations lightly,” said the announcement regarding Martin’s hiring from Committee Chairman Jo Bonner, R-Ala., and ranking member Linda Sanchez, D-Calif.
“The entire committee has therefore directed that a thorough review of all these serious allegations will be the very first task of the outside counsel’s engagement, including providing an additional opportunity for Representative Waters to clarify her concerns to the committee and outside counsel,” the statement said.
The outside counsel – Martin – will report his findings and conclusion to the committee, which will then decide how to proceed. Should the matter proceed, it said Martin will continue “to make appropriate recommendations and provide appropriate assistance to the committee to complete the matter as quickly as possible."
Earlier on Wednesday, organizations including the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen, and U.S. PIRG, released a letter urging the committee to hire outside counsel in the matter because of “very serious problems in the committee’s investigatory process.”
But the letter to Bonner and Sanchez also stated, “We reject calls for the Waters case to be dismissed. Serious questions have been raised in the Waters case about potential violations of House ethics rules. These ethics questions merit a professional investigation and adjudication.”
This article appears in the July 20, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.