Waters seeks release of ethics case details, speedy trial

Stepping up her fight against ethics charges, Rep. Maxine Waters (D- Los Angeles) asked the House Ethics Committee on Wednesday to make public the details of the case against her and expedite her trial.

Waters has come under scrutiny for her actions involving a bank with ties to her husband that received federal bailout funds. But the Ethics Committee has not revealed the charges against her or the findings of its investigation.

Although a report released this week found “substantial reason” to believe that Waters may have violated ethics rules, the committee is not due to make public the charges or release the findings of its investigative subcommittee until Congress returns from its summer recess in September. But Waters asked the committee to provide the information now.

“I am confident that once the subcommittee report is released and I am able to present my case, my constituents and all Americans will understand that I have not violated any House rules,” Waters said in a letter to the panel.


She also asked for a hearing before the November election, saying that any delay “violates the fundamental principles of due process, denies my constituents the opportunity to evaluate this case and harms my ability to defend my integrity.”

“I suspect she is thinking that the best defense is a strong offense,” said Kenneth Gross, a Washington ethics lawyer.

In a new twist, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- San Francisco) on Wednesday called House members back to Washington next week to act on $26 billion in aid to states, giving the committee an opportunity to meet sooner.

But it was unclear whether it would. Spokesmen for the committee and its chairwoman, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), declined to comment.


With Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York, another prominent Democrat, also facing a high-profile ethics trial, Democrats are eager to get the cases over with as soon as possible before what is shaping up as a tough November election for the party in power.

Unless Waters settles, an eight-member panel of her House colleagues, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, will hear the case against her.

It involves OneUnited Bank, which received $12 million in bailout funds three months after Waters — a senior member of the congressional committee that oversees banking — helped arrange a September 2008 meeting between Treasury Department officials and representatives of minority-owned banks. The Office of Congressional Ethics, in referring the matter to the Ethics Committee, said that discussion at the meeting “centered on a single bank — OneUnited.”

Waters’ husband, Sidney Williams, served on the OneUnited board from 2004 to 2008, and at the time of the meeting was a stockholder in the bank, according to the Office of Congressional Ethics.

Waters, who has held elective office in Sacramento or Washington for more than three decades, has defended her efforts as in keeping with her longtime work to promote opportunity for minority-owned businesses and lending in underserved communities such as her South Central Los Angeles district.

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), a fellow Congressional Black Caucus member and a former Ethics Committee member, predicted Waters would be cleared.

“I don’t think there’s any ‘there’ there,” he told CBS News. “There’s no benefit to her. Treasury says that nothing resulted from the meeting.... She was not in the meeting. It was a meeting called on behalf of all of the nation’s minority-owned banks.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), head of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the ethics process should be allowed to proceed “without prejudging the outcome.”