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Waters’ Lawyers Warn Ethics Panel

Attorneys for Rep. Maxine Waters (D) accused the House ethics committee of improperly collecting additional evidence for its looming trial of the California lawmaker on charges she violated House rules. And they demanded the panel stop.

In an Aug. 25 letter to Committee on Standards of Official Conduct Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and ranking member Joe Bonner (R-Ala.), Waters’ attorneys revealed the committee requested new documents from the California lawmaker’s office Aug. 17 and indicated it would subpoena the materials if necessary.

Defense attorneys Stan Brand and Andrew Herman also wrote that the ethics committee is conducting interviews of unidentified witnesses, including former Waters aides.

“Rep. Waters demands that the Committee cease its post-transmittal inquiry, which it is conducting in violation of both Committee rules and federal criminal procedure,” Brand and Herman wrote. And they vowed to fight the use of any of the newly acquired material: “The Committee should also note that Rep. Waters will oppose any attempt to use evidence acquired post-transmittal of the [Statement of Alleged Violation] in an adjudicatory hearing on the charges contained in the SAV.”

The ethics committee released an investigative subcommittee report, formally known as a Statement of Alleged Violation, on Aug. 9 that charged Waters with violating the chamber’s rules. The report charges that her chief of staff 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, is set to 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.

In their letter to the ethics leaders, Brand and Herman asserted that the committee’s ongoing investigation “raises significant questions about the sufficiency of the evidence that the Investigative Subcommittee relied upon when it issued the charges.”

“These activities are particularly worrisome given the alacrity displayed by the Investigative Subcommittee in transmitting the SAV to this Committee,” the letter states. “This rush to judgment (and subsequent efforts to bolster its case) casts doubt on the sufficiency of the investigation underlying the SAV. Even more troublesomely, it calls into question the impartiality and good faith of the Investigative Subcommittee.”

The House ethics committee declined to comment for this article.

According to the committee’s rules, however, the subcommittee may request or issue subpoenas for witnesses or the production of documents during a hearing “as it deems necessary.” The panel can also use “depositions, interrogatories, and sworn statements” collected by the investigative subcommittee.

Under the rules, the subcommittee is also required to notify the defendant and her attorneys of any evidence or witnesses, and the defense must be allowed at least 15 days before the hearing to review the materials or a summary of expected testimony.

The allegations against Waters stem from a September 2008 meeting the lawmaker arranged between the National Bankers Association and the Treasury Department. The session 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 also stop work on OneUnited’s behalf, which later received $12 million in federal funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Waters has disputed the allegations, stating that TARP did not exist at the time of the initial meeting.

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