Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this article, including in the print editions of The Washington Post, misidentified a Waters critic who was quoted. The executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is Melanie Sloan, not Melanie Crew. This version has been corrected.

Rep. Maxine Waters blasts ethics panel and media, defends links to OneUnited

The House ethics committee announced that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) will face trial for her role in steering federal funds to a bank to which she is personally connected. She denies any wrongdoing. Her career in photos:
By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 14, 2010

A lawmaker was looking on proudly at her grandson, but this was anything but a warm occasion.

Three days after Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) defended himself on the House floor against ethics charges, another veteran legislator accused of breaking House rules, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), on Friday blasted the ethics committee and the press while denying she had "violated anything."

After Waters's speech, her chief of staff, Mikael Moore, painstakingly went through a series of e-mails and letters in a 50-page PowerPoint presentation to defend the congresswoman. Moore, 32, whose e-mails are at the center of the probe, is Waters's grandson.

While Rangel's speech was unorthodox, Waters's performance went further. Most members of Congress, including Rangel, rarely discuss the details of their ethics controversies, deferring to attorneys. But in an unusual news conference in the Capitol that lasted more than an hour, Waters answered a series of questions about her alleged role in securing millions of dollars for a bank in which her husband was a major investor.

"I won't go behind closed doors. I won't cut a deal. I will continue to talk about the fact that I have not violated anything," Waters said.

One of the slides read, "No benefit, no improper action, no failure to disclose, no one influenced, no case."

Her performance didn't win over her critics.

"The fact remains, Representative Waters abused her office for personal financial gain, and she must be held accountable for that," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonpartisan watchdog group. "No PowerPoint presentation by her grandson or anyone else can change that reality."

The House ethics committee report released Monday said Waters's office improperly worked in September 2008 to press for aid to prevent the failure of Boston-based OneUnited Bank, which eventually stayed afloat with the help of money from the Troubled Assets Relief Program.

Waters's husband, Sidney Williams, had served on the bank's board. He owned stock in OneUnited that had declined in value from $350,000 in June 2008 to $175,000 two months later and would have been "worthless" without the bailout funds, according to the ethics committee.

Eventually, the language in the TARP bill, which Congress passed in October 2008, included a provision that would aid small, minority-owned banks such as OneUnited, and the bank received $12 million two months later.

The report highlights e-mails Moore sent and received from OneUnited executives and suggests Waters should not have allowed him to send them when her family had a specific financial stake in the bank. The congresswoman has said she was aiding a group of minority banks that includes OneUnited.

The legal arguments Waters and Moore detailed Friday had already been hashed out in memos between her attorneys and the ethics committee. They will probably be resolved in a trial later this year, as Waters has refused to accept any admonishment from the ethics committee. The controversy is not expected to affect her ability to win reelection in her heavily Democratic district.

But the 71-year-old Waters, who was first elected in 1990, seems determined to not only convince her colleagues of her innocence but defend her reputation. For Waters, a combative figure on Capitol Hill, going public with her defense is perfectly in character.

She criticized the ethics committee, which consists of five Democrats and five Republicans, for taking too long to investigate her case, even though she said it "ignored or disregarded key pieces of exculpatory evidence."

She attacked the media for covering her ethics scandals but not her longtime work in pressing for minorities to get more government contracts and other federal aid, which she says was the reason she aided black-owned banks during the financial crisis.

"The system has not adequately recognized that it is not open and available to everybody," she said. "I, as an African American woman, must be aware of what I can do to open up the system to everybody."

Addressing the two dozen reporters and photographers in attendance, she added, "I would love for your newspapers and your television stations to be interested in this work, but normally it's not sexy enough, it's not interesting enough, so I don't get heard and others who do this kind of work don't get heard.

"But now we're in the middle of an investigation and the discussion is on."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company