UPDATED, 2:04 p.m.--With a trial not expected for months, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., made an impassioned defense today against House Ethics Committee allegations that she improperly aided a Boston-based bank in which her husband had a financial interest.
"I'm in fact anxious to share these facts with you and the public because I have not violated any House rules," Waters said at a news conference. "Neither my staff nor I engaged in any improper behavior, and we did not influence anyone, and we did not gain any benefit."
At issue is Waters' arrangement of a meeting in the fall 2008 between Treasury Department officials and the National Bankers Association, a minority-owned bank trade association. NAB was represented at the meeting by officials from OneUnited, a Boston-based bank, where her husband was an investor and former board member. OneUnited eventually received $12.1 million in federal bailout funds.
The Ethics Committee alleges that Waters failed to instruct her chief of staff, Mikael Moore, to stop assisting the bank even after she was warned against getting her office involved in something that could benefit her personally.
The panel said Waters ran afoul a rule that bars a member from exerting undue or improper influence for personal benefit, and another rule that prohibits members or their staff from pursuing activity that could be construed as dispensing a special favor or privilege.
Moore, who is Waters' grandson, gave a PowerPoint presentation, and she followed up with questions. Waters argued that she was trying to help more broadly a group of minority-owned banks that suffered from losses by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and did not single out OneUnited Bank for aid.
She argued that at the time of the meeting with Treasury officials, the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program had not been established, so there was no possible chance for her to help the bank acquire funds.
She said she spoke with House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank "several weeks after" the Treasury meeting, and after the bailout fund was making its way through the legislative process -- at least after Sept. 20.
She said she told Frank that OneUnited was seeking bailout funds. But because her office's assistance to the NAB "was strictly to provide access for a discussion about the impact of the financial crisis on small and minority banks broadly. ... I did not with to get involved with OneUnited Bank about any individual assistance or about this new TARP program," she said.
Waters' legal team has asked the Ethics Committee to provide the exact date of the conversation with Frank, which investigative documents released so far have not revealed.
Waters said she has no intention of settling the case and stressed that the ethics process needs to be improved.
"We feel very strongly we cannot do that," Waters said. "We are preparing to defend myself and open up the discussion about the process."
Waters was skeptical the ethics hearing would occur before the midterm election.
"Unfortunately, the committee has not yet specified a date for a hearing on this matter, and given the congressional schedule, it is possible that no hearing would be held for months, even after the November elections," Waters said.
This article appears in the August 14, 2010 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.