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Maxine Waters will go to trial rather than settling potential ethics charges

By Ben Pershing and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 31, 2010; A04

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has decided against settling potential House ethics charges for her role in helping to steer federal funds to a bank, choosing instead to proceed to a trial, a source familiar with the process said Friday night.

Waters's decision means that her case will be heard by an adjudicatory subcommittee of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. She will become the second high-profile Democrat -- and member of the Congressional Black Caucus -- to face such an ordeal in the coming months, along with Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.).

In that case, a House subcommittee has recommended that Rangel face only a "reprimand," a mild form of punishment similar to that given to Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) when he was rebuked in 1997.

Rep. Gene Green (D-Tex.) told reporters Friday that his four-member investigative subcommittee is not seeking the high-level punishments of censure or expulsion against Rangel, opting for a mid-level sanction that requires the approval of the full House but carries no other penalty.

"The recommendation we had was a reprimand," Green said a day after the subcommittee released the 40-page outline of charges.

Green would not discuss whether the subcommittee was unanimous in its recommendation, which required only a majority vote.

Waters's office declined Friday night to comment on her case, and the ethics panel has not issued any statements in the matter. Her decision was first reported by Politico.

Waters is facing scrutiny for her efforts to arrange meetings in 2008 between Treasury Department officials and minority-owned banks, including representatives from OneUnited Bank. One of the sessions was geared toward ensuring that the banks received a share of bailout funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and OneUnited got $12.1 million in TARP money soon after the second meeting.

Waters reportedly did not tell Treasury Department officials that she had personal and financial ties to OneUnited. Waters's husband, Sidney Williams, had served on the bank's board of directors and owned shares in the company worth at least $500,000. Waters herself had previously owned shares in the bank herself but sold them years earlier.

Waters has said that she was simply trying to help minority-owned institutions get their fair share from the government.

According to Republican counts, 10 House Democrats have called on Rangel to resign, nine of whom were elected for the first time in 2006 or 2008 and face difficult races as they seek reelection in November.

"It's been a long haul," said Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio). "I think he should resign, out of concern for the institution and the particularity of the allegations."

Some Democrats who have called for Rangel's resignation left wiggle room for him to try to prove the allegations are false.

President Obama made his first comments about the case since the charges were announced.

"I think Charlie Rangel served a very long time and served his constituents very well," Obama said in an interview with CBS News. "But these allegations are very troubling. . . . He's somebody who's at the end of his career. Eighty years old. I'm sure that what he wants is to be able to end his career with dignity. And my hope is that it happens."

Rangel's legal team held out hope that the lawmaker could reach a settlement with the adjudicatory subcommittee hearing his case, potentially avoiding political fallout from the trial -- planned for mid-September -- on the critical midterm elections. Attorney Leslie Kiernan said a reprimand "was one of a number of issues addressed in settlement discussions."

The charges include allegations that Rangel violated House rules by soliciting donations from people with business before his committee to fund a center named in his honor at City College of New York, not paying taxes on a Caribbean home, improperly using a rent-stabilized apartment in New York as a campaign office, and not properly disclosing more than $600,000 in income and assets.

Rangel's attorneys issued a 32-page rebuttal Thursday.

Green and Rep. Jo Bonner (Ala.), the top Republican on the investigative subcommittee, are serving as the prosecution in the Rangel trial. They are presenting their evidence to an adjudicatory subcommittee made up of four Democrats and four Republicans who serve as the judge and jury.

If the panel finds Rangel guilty, it could determine a punishment. But the recommendation of Green and Bonner would weigh heavily on that decision, much as a prosecutor's sentencing recommendation would influence a judge in a criminal trial.

In January 1997, the House reprimanded Gingrich because of the financing related to a college course the then-speaker taught in the 1990s. It also fined Gingrich $300,000 for misleading investigators. Green said Friday that no additional sanction, beyond a reprimand, was recommended against Rangel.

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