By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 2, 2010; A04
The chairman of the House ethics committee in mid-November approved a forced, indefinite leave by two of the panel's lead investigators of alleged wrongdoing by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) on behalf of a bank, an attorney for the investigators said Wednesday.
The actions occurred just as the committee postponed the trial because it had discovered new evidence that Waters's staff had played a more robust role in drafting key bank bailout legislation than previously understood.
Chairman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), in a cryptic announcement of the postponement on Nov. 19, said that "materials" had surfaced that required an investigative subcommittee to take up the matter once more, probably putting off any vote by the full committee on the lawmaker's fate until next year.
Waters's office subsequently confirmed the existence of the e-mail, in which her Chief of Staff Mikael Moore, who is also her grandson, demanded that aides to Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) show Moore the final version of "the provisions that we have been working on" to help minority-owned banks.
Lofgren's statement did not mention the staffing decisions, however, and she has not informed the investigators, C. Morgan Kim and Stacey Sovereign, since then of the reasons, according to their attorney, Richard A. Sauber.
He said neither Kim nor Sovereign, who are former federal prosecutors, knows why the action was taken. "They have spotless records," Sauber said Wednesday. "They completely deny any impropriety." Kim has been the top deputy to chief counsel R. Blake Chisam, who Sauber said initiated the action against them.
Lofgren's press aide and chief of staff did not respond to a request for comment, and Chisam did not return a phone call.
Several Republican sources on Capitol Hill, speaking on the condition of anonymity, suggested that Kim and Sovereign had ruffled feathers by continuing to investigate Waters even after the investigative subcommittee recommended in August that she be tried on ethics charges for intervening to help a troubled, minority-owned bank in Boston in which her husband held a substantial investment.
"They were pushing too hard" to expand the investigation, a Republican staff aide said, adding that before being placed on leave, they had circulated a memo supporting the trial postponement and urging further inquiry. Sauber said "they are not partisan in any way" and had no ill motives.
Waters, in a statement Wednesday, said that the lawyers' removal may have occurred because their conduct was "egregious." She said it suggests that "something has gone wrong in the ethics process," adding that "the committee must reveal immediately the circumstances that prompted its action."
"The longer the committee withholds the details of its actions, the more the public's confidence in the House ethics process is eroded," Waters said.