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Ethics Committee Says Maxine Waters’ Rights Not Violated

The House Ethics Committee today announced that after an outside counsel’s nearly yearlong investigation into whether its members and staffers had acted inappropriately in the months leading up to the canceled trial of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), it has unanimously concluded that her due process rights were not violated.

The announcement, which was accompanied by a letter from acting Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and ranking member John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) to Waters, allowed that the committee “assumes that a former staff member may be responsible” for the unauthorized disclosure of information about Waters’ case and that there was “some evidence of insensitive [racial] remarks made by a former Committee staff member” that were inappropriate. But the panel said it unanimously decided such behavior did not prevent the committee from preparing Waters’ case in a fair and unbiased manner.

“There has been no violation of the due process rights to which you are entitled,” Goodlatte and Yarmuth wrote. “Even when the allegations are considered in their totality, there is still no violation of the process which you are due, and the Committee is entitled to continue its consideration of your matter.”

The committee announced in February that six of its members had voluntarily recused themselves from the Waters matter upon recommendation from outside counsel. It said Republican Reps. Mike Simpson (Idaho), Steven LaTourette (Ohio), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Tim Griffin (Ark.), Goodlatte, as well as Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) would serve as substitute committee members as the case proceeded, with Goodlatte acting as chairman and existing Ethics member Yarmuth as ranking member.

Nearly a year ago, the committee retained litigator Billy Martin as outside counsel to review whether its members and staffers had communicated inappropriately regarding the Waters matter in the months leading up to a scheduled trial, which was postponed in November 2010. The matter was sent back to an investigative subcommittee for further review and two staffers were placed on administrative leave. Internal committee documents published by Politico showed that the committee’s former staff director thought the staffers’ improper behavior had likely compromised the investigation.

Martin was first tasked with examining the actions of those on the committee during the Waters probe before deciding whether its case against Waters could continue.

“Serious allegations have been made about the Committee’s own conduct in this matter by Representative Waters and others,” Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) said in a joint statement at the time. “The entire Committee has therefore directed that a thorough review of all of these serious allegations will be the very first task of the outside counsel’s engagement.”

Martin was initially supposed to deliver his findings by Jan. 2, but in mid-December the committee said it had authorized him to bill up to $500,000 for work related to the Waters case — in addition to the $300,000 he had billed at that point under the terms of his original contract — and that he had until July 31 to deliver his findings.

Now that the Ethics Committee has cleared itself, it could decide to proceed with its case against Waters, who is alleged to have improperly intervened with federal regulators on behalf of a bank in which her husband had a financial stake.

Waters’ office said a statement on the committee’s announcement would be forthcoming.

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