Ethics probes of Rangel, Waters cause tension on Capitol Hill

Reps. Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters face ethics probes that have further strained ties between black lawmakers and Democratic leaders.
Reps. Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters face ethics probes that have further strained ties between black lawmakers and Democratic leaders. (Robert Reeder/the Washington Post Alex Brandon/associated Press)
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By James Oliphant and Richard Simon
Monday, August 2, 2010

The prospect of two long-serving, iconic black lawmakers in the House enduring unprecedented public ethics trials could add to the growing tension between black members of Congress and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill and in the Obama administration.

Congressional sources confirmed late Friday that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) will face an ethics proceeding this year that is probably related to allegations that she sought to help a bank with ties to her husband receive federal bailout funds.

The House trial could come on the heels of the high-profile trial of Rep. Charles B. Rangel, the venerable Democrat from New York who is accused of 13 violations of House ethics rules. Like Rangel, Waters chose not to seek a settlement with House ethics investigators that would have involved some admission of wrongdoing.

Between them, Rangel, 80, and Waters, 71, have served in the House for six decades and are leading members of the Congressional Black Caucus. The caucus has long complained that the House ethics process disproportionately targets blacks in the chamber.

Since its 2009 inception, the Office of Congressional Ethics -- an independent watchdog set up at the behest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) -- has investigated at least eight members of the black caucus.

Earlier this summer, Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio), a member of the caucus, introduced a resolution that would strip the ethics panel of some of its power and allow House members to keep unflattering reports from public view. The caucus has stood behind Rangel even as other House members have called for his resignation.

Kenneth Gross, an ethics lawyer in Washington, said the push against Rangel and Waters "fuels the racial dimension."

"It's going to be so highly charged considering who the players are," he added.

Waters came under scrutiny last year after Massachusetts-based OneUnited Bank, one of the nation's largest minority-owned institutions, received $12 million in bailout funds.

The funding came three months after Waters, a senior member of the House committee that oversees banking, helped arrange a meeting between officials of the bank, other minority-owned financial institutions and Treasury Department representatives. Waters's husband, Sidney Williams, had owned stock in the bank and served on its board.

Waters previously said that she had fully disclosed her husband's ties to the bank.

Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson and other civil rights leaders in Los Angeles issued a statement Saturday supporting Waters, who represents parts of South Los Angeles.

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