Rep. Maxine Waters cites similar ethics claims against a peer, who was cleared

Mikael Moore rose from a bottom-rung staff assistant to Congresswoman Maxine Waters's chief of staff.
By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 10, 2010

In defending herself against congressional ethics charges, Rep. Maxine Waters plans to put a surprising witness on the stand: The House Ethics Committee.

The committee unveiled a three-count charge against the California Democrat on Monday, alleging she broke conflict-of-interest rules by helping arrange a cash infusion of more than $12 million in federal bailout funds for a troubled bank in which her husband was a large shareholder.

Waters has countered that her initial assistance was intended to benefit a broad category of minority-owned banks, not just her husband's bank, and that follow-up help to the bank was minimal and handled by staff.

The congresswoman has expressed no intention of settling the case. She is expected instead to defend herself in an ethics trial, which would probably begin in September.

In her defense, Waters and her attorneys intend to present the case of another member of Congress who recently faced similar charges before the ethics committee and was exonerated.

Rep. Sam Graves, a four-term Missouri Republican who sat on the Small Business Committee, was accused of helping his wife's investment partner by inviting him to testify before the committee. Graves said that his wife's partner was acting on behalf of a larger trade association and that his staff had selected him to testify.

The ethics committee cleared him of the charges.

"This committee has adopted an approach that is sharply divergent and significantly harsher than the decision rendered in Graves and other relevant precedent," Waters's attorneys, Stanley Brand and Andrew Herman, wrote the Ethics Committee last month. "In light of the disparate treatment of Representative Waters the allegations cannot be reconciled with this committee's precedent."

The Brand-Herman memo was released Monday as part of the Ethics Committee's "statement of alleged violation," which outlined the conclusions of an investigative subcommittee that had been examining Waters for almost a year. It found that Waters "improperly exerted" her influence by helping Boston-based OneUnited Bank in securing funds from the federal Troubled Assets Relief Program.

The Waters case, which will be heard by an eight-lawmaker panel, will probably hinge on whether it can be proven that her office's actions led to OneUnited's TARP aid.

In September 2008, Waters arranged a meeting between the bank's officers and Treasury officials. At the meeting, the bank's officers requested $50 million in federal money. In exchange, the bank said it would turn over the value of its holdings in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage giants that had just been placed in conservatorship by Treasury and the Federal Reserve.

Treasury balked at the request, saying the law did not allow such an exchange.

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