A House of Representatives ethics panel has cleared Congresswoman Maxine Waters of any wrongdoing, ending a two-year investigation that had hounded the California Democrat and threatened her political future.
Friday’s official exoneration clears the way for her to become the Ranking Member of the powerful House Financial Services Committee in the next Congress following the retirement of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). Waters would become the committee chairwoman if Democrats were to regain control of the House in November’s elections.
House Ethics Committee members said their investigation found no violation by Waters, but said Waters’ chief of staff, Mikael Moore, did take actions in Congress in an attempt to help the bank and violated House standards of conduct.
Moore, who is Waters’ grandson, will likely receive a letter admonishing him for his conduct, but will not face more severe punishment, such as a reprimand, by the full House.
Virginia Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte, acting chairman of the panel specifically for the Waters case, announced the tentative findings at the hearing, but added that the committee had not issued a final report.
Waters, an 11-term representative, had faced charges of violating congressional rules when she called Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in 2008 on behalf of minority-owned banks, including one troubled institution where her husband had financial stake.
The finding concludes a two-year investigation in Waters’s actions that were disrupted by allegations of misconduct within a previous committee probing her conduct. A new panel created to review Waters’ actions ultimately took the highly unusual step of hiring an outside lawyer to conduct the inquiry.
The committee has accepted the findings of an outside lawyer hired to examine her conduct. The lawyer, Billy Martin, found that Waters believed she was intervening on behalf of all minority-owned banks – and not directly on behalf of the one in which her husband held stock.
He therefore found no evidence that she knowingly violated House rules. When she learned that OneUnited, on whose board her husband once sat, was seeking federal bailout funds, she ended her involvement, Martin concluded.
OneUnited ultimately received $12 million through the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program to help offset losses from investments in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Waters’s actions occurred during the height of the financial crash, when many banks were facing difficulties because of investments in the federal housing agencies.
Conclusion of the issue was delayed after it was revealed that two staff attorneys to the committee had leaked information in 2010 about the probe to Republican committee members. In 2011, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) appointed the six lawmakers who met Friday to restart the probe.
Martin also found that the leaks did not violate Waters’ right to due process. Waters has long maintained that she wanted to clear her name quickly and the long delay has been unfair. She had repeatedly requested a public hearing like the one held Friday.
Martin is a high-profile Washington-based attorney whose previous clients include Michael Vick, NBA stars Allen Iverson and Jayson Williams and former Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell among others.