The tumultuous ethics case against Rep. Maxine Waters, one of Los Angeles’ most enduring politicians, took another strange turn Friday as six members of the House Ethics Committee recused themselves from considering the charges against her.
Committee Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) said that all five of the panel’s Republicans, including himself, and one Democrat were taking the unusual action of recusing themselves from further involvement in the long-running Waters case "out of an abundance of caution and to avoid even an appearance of unfairness." Six new House members immediately were named to the bipartisan panel to consider all matters related to the Waters case.
Waters, a South Los Angeles political fixture since the 1970s, has been accused of intervening on behalf of a bank where her husband owned stock and served on the board. She has denied wrongdoing. The case has taken on greater importance for Waters, who is in line to succeed retiring Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) as the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee.
The investigation against Waters has been anything but usual. It has been sidetracked twice -- once by the committee's decision to put off a trial to conduct further investigation and then by allegations of misconduct against the ethics staff.
An outside lawyer was hired last July to examine whether the committee’s staff acted improperly in investigation allegations of misconduct.
While Washington lawyer Billy Martin has yet to complete his report, which will help determine whether the case against Waters proceeds, he recommended the recusals, according to a letter from Bonner read on the House floor Friday.
"These recusal requests are not based on any indication of any wrongdoing or inappropriate partisanship by members," the letter says, adding that the outside counsel has "not discovered any evidence to indicate actual bias or partiality by any current member or staff."
But Bonner said in the letter that he and the other members were recusing themselves to "assure the public, the House and Rep. Waters that this investigation is continuing in a fair and unbiased manner."
There was no immediate response from Waters. The congresswoman, 73, has defended her actions, saying she didn't benefit financially and was acting on behalf of minority banks in general.