We Were Right About Maxine Waters' Trial Delay

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Maxine Waters photoNancy Pelosi was quick to refer the Anthony Weiner scandal to the House Ethics Committee. Yet other more substantial matters, like the Maxine Waters trial, have languished for months.

In 2008, Waters, D-Calif., arranged a meeting with the U.S. Department of Treasury and OneUnited Bank. OneUnited claimed it was in dire need of federal cash as a result of its failed Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae investments. The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) provided $12 million to the bank.

Following OneUnited's bailout, regulators ordered the bank to hire a new independent board and raise its own capital. The struggling bank was also forced to stop paying for the president's $6.4 million Malibu home and Porsche.

The representative's ties to OneUnited were public prior to the incident, and she had outlined her involvement with the bank in multiple federal disclosure forms. The bank's executives contributed $12,500 to Waters's congressional campaigns. 

Waters's husband, Sidney Williams, had been a stockholder in OneUnited. Williams was also on the board of directors for several years until his resignation in April 2008. According to a report by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), Waters's 2008 financial disclosure form showed her husband had two investments in OneUnited that were valued between $500,000 and $1 million. Williams's investments would have drastically diminished without federal aid.

The House Ethics Committee charged Waters with three violations connected to her efforts to secure TARP funding for OneUnited. The violations allege Waters broke House rules and affected the House's credibility, the representative used improper influence for personal gains, and supplied special favors or priveleges to an organization or person with or without compensation.

The congresswoman's trial was scheduled to begin last November, but was delayed indefinitely after new documents surfaced. The documents consist of a series of emails between Waters's chief of staff and grandson Mikael Moore, and members of the Financial Services Committee. The emails show Moore participated in discussions regarding the bank bailout legislation that directly affected OneUnited.

Waters has insisted that she was concerned for many minority-owned organizations, and not solely OneUnited.

According to the OCE's report, Moore was aware of a meeting between Waters and Representative Barney Frank, D-Mass. The report states that Waters told Moore not to work on the National Bank Association (NBA) matters because Frank said not to "worry about it." Moore said he does not remember Waters making a reference to Frank discouraging her involvement with the NBA. Frank, referred to as "Representive A" in the OCE report, also told Waters to "stay out of it," as his staff would address the conflict from that point forward. 

At the time the dealy was announced, some watchdog groups cited the campaign season as another reason to postpone the trial. As Craig Holman of Public Citizen told reporter Susan Crabtree of The Hill:

Given the very partisan and political nature of Congress, however, it is worrisome to allow Congress to conduct trials of potential ethics violations very near the election. This could set a troubling precedent for future partisan actions.

But others like Peter Flaherty, President of the National Legal and Policy Center, criticized the delay:

Politics have trumped ethics in the final days of this Congress. Notwithstanding her pledge to "drain the swamp" and preside over the most ethical Congress ever, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) simply will not allow high-profile ethics trials during the campaign season.

This week, Flaherty claims he was right. He said, "I knew that once the Waters trial was delayed past the election that it might not take place for a long time. But Republicans can no longer blame Pelosi. They control the House. The Waters trial should proceed without further delay."

On the day of the representative's scheduled trial, she released a statement addressing the ethics committee and its trial postponement:

The reason that was given by the committee, the discovery of so-called new evidence, is unacceptable and defies common logic. ...

The truth is, the detailed and continuous analysis of committee rules and precedent, and the plain facts of this case established by me and my legal team, reveal only one thing: no benefit, no improper action, no failure to disclose, no one influenced, no case. ...

I believe this cancelation [sic] demonstrates in no uncertain terms the weakness of their case against me.

The ethics committee refused to comment on the reasons for the continued. Waters's congressional staff have not responded to calls or written questions. 

Kristen Byrne is NLPC's Capitol Hill Reporter.

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