The seemingly endless ethics investigation of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) may finally be heading to a conclusion. The House Ethics Committee has commissioned a prominent outside lawyer to examine the conduct of committee staffers who allegedly violated her rights by leaking investigative information to a Republican committee member. If the committee decides to revive its investigation, the outside counsel will play a continuing role.
The Waters case can be traced back to a meeting investigators say the congresswoman set up between Treasury Department officials and the National Bankers Assn., which represents minority-owned banks. But the only bank with representatives at the meeting was OneUnited Bank, on whose board Waters' husband had served and in which he owned thousands of shares of stock. OneUnited later received $12 million in government bailout money. Waters denies any wrongdoing and insists that her interest was in assisting minority-owned banks in general.
An investigative subcommittee of the Ethics Committee found that there is substantial reason to believe she violated the Code of Ethics for Government Service, as well as a requirement that members "behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House." She also was accused of violating the "spirit" of a rule against receiving compensation for improper official acts.
Waters was entitled to an expeditious trial on those charges (some of which are rather vague). But a year and a half after the case was referred to the Ethics Committee, the trial was suddenly postponed and the charges returned to an investigative subcommittee. Meanwhile, the case became enmeshed in partisan intrigue, with two investigators fired by the Democratic chairwoman of the Ethics Committee and later reinstated by her Republican successor.
Now the Ethics Committee -- whose membership has changed -- has appointed an outside counsel. Billy Martin, a Washington trial lawyer respected by both parties, will look first at alleged violations of due process for Waters. Later, if the committee decides to pursue the matter further, he will assist in completing the investigation.
The investigation of Waters has gone on unconscionably long, but an end is in sight. Martin can ensure that whatever the outcome, it will have credibility.