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Ethics Names New Staff Director, Could Speed Waters Case

The House Ethics Committee on Monday named a new staff director, which could allow the committee to finally resolve the long-stalled investigation of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

The panel approved the appointment of Daniel Schwager, who has served for two years as counsel for the Senate Ethics Committee, as its new staff director. Committee rules require the 10-member panel to approve the appointment of its top staffer.

Hiring Schwager, a former lawyer in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, is the first major move by the House Ethics panel since the start of the 112th Congress. The staff leadership slot has been vacant since December, and panel Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) have been reluctant to proceed with any investigations until they filled it.

With a new director in place, the committee may begin to move on several items on its lengthy docket, though Bonner was noncommittal Monday. When asked whether Schwager’s installment could expedite the committee’s work, he said, “He’s been on the job for less than 12 hours. We’ve got to give him a chance to get acclimated.”

The committee’s most pressing matter is the Waters case. The California Democrat came under investigation by the panel last August following allegations that she used her senior spot on the Financial Services Committee to secure federal support for OneUnited Bank, a minority-owned institution where her husband was a shareholder and director.

The panel was ready to hear the case against her in late November. However, just days before the trial was scheduled to begin, panel leaders announced that they were postponing it indefinitely to consider new evidence. The same day, the panel’s two lead attorneys in the case were placed on administrative leave. Both have since left the committee’s payroll.

Waters, who has denied any wrongdoing, went on to accuse the committee — then led by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) — of foul play and demanded an explanation for the delay and the lawyers’ suspensions, but the committee offered neither.

Schwager’s task will be to decide how the committee should proceed. One option is to drop the case entirely on the grounds that the proceedings have been disrupted to a point of no return. The other option is to resume the investigation and set a new trial date. But in going that route, Schwager also would have to grapple with whether to reconvene the investigatory and adjudicatory subcommittees of the previous Congress, or form new subcommittees from among the current members who sit on the full panel.

In the months ahead, the Ethics Committee must also decide whether to reconstitute a special panel to review allegations that ex-Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) sexually harassed members of his staff.

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