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Infighting cited in breakdown of Waters ethics probe

In conversations with others, Lofgren and Chisam have, in turn, accused the staff of failing to collect needed documents before an investigative subcommittee formally accused Waters of violations in June. They also say that the staff did not disclose in a timely way some of the evidence gaps.

For their part, some staff members said Lofgren repeatedly refused to approve a request to subpoena Waters in late 2009 and a request early this year to subpoena Frank and his staff. Instead, they said, she repeatedly sought voluntary compliance with evidence requests. Lofgren generally has sought records voluntarily and subpoenaed them only when members did not comply.

As tensions escalated, staff members had begun to distribute updates and recommendations about the probe to all committee members, rather than first clearing them with Chisam and Lofgren.

In an e-mail to Lofgren and other committee members Oct. 13, for example, staff prosecutor Sheria Clarke called Lofgren's efforts to shorten the trial "troubling" and said her decision could compromise the staff's efforts to present a "fair, thorough, and effective" case. The staff wanted 30 hours to present its case, but Lofgren ordered that the charges be presented in six hours, according to congressional and legal sources.

Perhaps the only issue on which all of those involved in the probe agree is that they had expected Waters to concede that she had made mistakes and to accept an admonishment. Her refusal to do so caught everyone by surprise and caused the staff to renew the search for evidence.

Waters's attorneys have said the renewed search was illegal. They have told Waters's grandson and chief of staff, Mikael Moore, who was at the center of her office's interactions with OneUnited, that he need not turn over e-mails subpoenaed in September from a private account. No action has been taken by the committee to enforce the subpoena.

Richard Sauber, an attorney for the suspended staff investigators, Stacey Sovereign and Morgan Kim, said criticisms of his clients' handling of the case are "egregious."

"The Chair of the House Ethics Committee . . . placed my clients on administrative leave without explanation," he said in an e-mailed statement. "Now my clients are subjected to a series of cowardly, anonymous leaks - all in violation of Committee rules - from certain elements of the Committee purporting to blame my clients for a host of transgressions."

Waters attorney R. Stanley Brand said the committee and its staff ignored committee rules and tried to force Waters into a quick settlement. When she refused, they spent months "trying to manufacture a case," he said.

"No amount of backtracking, adjusting of theories or concealment could overcome the truth," Brand said. "There were no violations," and "inevitably the case unraveled."

Staff writers Kimberly Kindy and Paul Kane and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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