Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) made an aggressive challenge Friday to charges that she violated House rules, framing the allegations in her own terms in an effort to counter information released by a House ethics subcommittee earlier this week.
The California lawmaker also raised the specter of reforming the House ethics committee, suggesting the investigation into her actions could “open up a discussion about the process” and lead to legislative action.
During the 90-minute press conference, Waters offered a detailed defense of her actions in fall 2008 and her chief of staff, Mikael Moore, a central figure in allegations that Waters violated House rules, offered a slide show presentation of various e-mails and interview transcripts in support of Waters’ account of events.
“I believe that if you’re going to write about this story you need to know what you’re writing about,” Waters said at the press conference. “Some of you have been all over the place in what you know and what you don’t know. And so, I thought it was important for you to get as much information as you could possibly get, so at least you can have some basic information based on documents, based on an understanding.”
The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct released an investigative subcommittee report on Monday that charges Waters with violating the chamber’s rules. The report charges that her top aide, who is also her grandson, tried to secure federal support for a bank in which Waters and her husband held hundreds of thousands of dollars of stock.
An adjudicatory subcommittee, composed of four Democrats and four Republicans from the ethics panel, will review the allegations in an ethics trial expected to take place in the fall to determine Waters’ guilt or innocence. If she is found at fault, the full ethics committee will determine a punishment, which could also be referred to the House.
During the press conference, the California lawmaker called on the ethics panel to move quickly to hold her trial — citing concerns that the Congressional schedule could delay a hearing until after November — and confirmed she is not seeking a settlement agreement.
“I won’t go behind closed doors. I won’t cut a deal,” Waters said.
The allegations stem from a September 2008 meeting Waters arranged between the National Bankers Association and the Treasury Department, and that included NBA officials who also worked for OneUnited Bank, in which her husband owned stock and had previously served on the board.
When OneUnited officials continued to seek federal funds after that meeting, Waters, acting on advice from Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), recused herself from involvement because it could be viewed as a conflict of interest.
But the investigative subcommittee found that Waters violated House rules because she did not direct her staff to likewise stop work on OneUnited’s behalf, which later received $12 million in federal funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
Waters disputed the ethics committee’s account of events. She asserted that the September meeting did not result in OneUnited’s ultimate receipt of federal funds, noting that the TARP program did not exist at the time of the meeting.
Her chief of staff likewise disputed that his actions — including e-mails he received from OneUnited officials — could be construed as actively assisting the bank.
Asked whether she would reconsider her actions if she had the chance to relive events leading up to the September 2008 meeting, Waters said no: “I would probably do the same thing.”
Waters also criticized the ethics process, citing both the House ethics committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics. The OCE, which reviews potential rules violations and refers investigations to the ethics panel, had also investigated Waters and recommended that the House committee probe the matter.
“I’m not opposed to the ethics process … but I think there should be due process,” Waters said. She later added, “The process must be one that can be negotiated fairly.”
In particular, she criticized the release of the OCE’s report so close to the November elections.
Although Waters blamed the OCE, that report was actually released by the ethics committee. The OCE also posts copies of its report to its own website.
Under House rules, the ethics committee must release an OCE report anytime the office recommends further review of a Member, but it may delay that release for one year if the ethics committee establishes an investigative subcommittee.
The ethics committee, which received the OCE report in August 2009 and empaneled an investigative subcommittee in October, released the OCE’s report earlier this month.
Waters signed on in May as co-sponsor of legislation sponsored by Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) that would cut back the OCE’s powers to open and pursue investigations of lawmakers.