After nearly three years and over a million dollars spent, the House Ethics Committee has exonerated Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) in the matter of a seemingly never ending ethics investigation that has featured many twists and turns.
The Waters probe has included an outside counsel and six members of the Committee recusing themselves from the investigation. In general terms, the way the investigation proceeded featured several unprecedented moments — particularly with regard to hiring an outside counsel at taxpayer expense.
Rep. Waters sat with her husband, Sidney Williams, and her Chief of Staff, who is also her grandson, Mikhail Moore, testified to the committee. Ethics Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) announced the exoneration yet indicated the three plus year investigation may continue on Waters’ chief of staff.
Waters is currently the most senior and most powerful Black female member of Congress. She is set to become either the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee or the Chairwoman of the committee, depending on whether Democrats win control of the House.
The investigation of Waters began in late 2009. At issue was whether Waters improperly steered assistance to a Black owned bank her husband owned stock in.
At the time Waters’ investigation was launched in November 2009, all eight active ethics investigations by either the House Ethics Committee or the new Office of Congressional Ethics were on Black members of Congress. Five of the eight Black members being investigated in late 2009 have now been exonerated.
Over the same three year period spanning 2009 to present, the House Ethics Committee decided not to formally investigate two white members. They were Reps. Sam Graves (R-MO) and Jean Schmidt (R-OH). During that same three year period, four Black members including Waters, were formally investigated by the House Ethics Committee. Theys are Reps. Laura Richardson (D-CA), Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Charlie Rangel (D-NY) were formally investigated.
Rangel, the most powerful Black member of Congress as Chairman of the House Ways and Mean Committee, became the first member of the House to be in censured in December of 2010. Richardson was investigated twice by the House Ethics Committe and was formally reprimanded by the House on August 1, 2012.
In July of 2011, noted attorney Billy Martin was assigned to investigate the Waters case after a fiasco ensued involving two attorney’s employed with the House Ethics Committee both of whom appeared to have resigned after improper conduct related to Waters’ case. Martin was hired to investigate what Ethics Committee members, Rep. Jo Bonner (R-AL) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) called “serious allegations” regarding the House Ethics Committee’s handling of Waters’ case.
The House Ethics Committee reportedly paid Martin between $500,000 and $800,000 in taxpayer money to investigate the House Ethics Committee. The House Ethics Committee, one of few in Congress whose members answer to no one and features legendary secrecy, released no public report of Martin’s inquiry to date and the details of the work for the Ethics Committee remains unknown.
Last summer after Martin was hired to investigate the Ethics Committee, Waters said the committee recognized that its investigation of her was “misguided, flawed and could go no further.” Waters has always denied wrong doing.
Waters, who is in line to succeed retiring Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts as the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee. She could face a challenge for the coveted leadership post if she remains under a cloud. Waters, 73
LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE, Politic365 Managing Editor, publishes the blog Crewof42 on the Congressional Black Caucus. She can be heard every Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET on WMCS 1290 on The Earl Ingram Show as well as on WPFW 89.3 every Friday at 6:30 p.m. Ms. Burke is a former employee of USAToday.com and ABC News. You can e-mail her at LVB@Politic365.com and follow her on twitter @Crewof42.