By R. Jeffrey Smith
Tuesday, March 15, 2011; 10:57 AM
The Republican chairman of the House Ethics Committee has accused his Democratic predecessor of violating House rules and acting without cause in forcing two staff lawyers to take paid leave amid a contentious committee probe of alleged misconduct by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) last year.
Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), who moved into the chairmanship in January, made that claim about former chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) in a letter he sent early this month to the two lawyers, who played lead roles in the Waters probe. They were idled just as Waters was to be tried by the committee over her actions involving a bank in which her husband had a financial interest.
In the letter, which Bonner said he wrote after consulting other members, he said that Lofgren's decision was unilateral and taken "without cause, in my view," and that the two staffers - counsels Morgan Kim and Stacey Sovereign - had "acted appropriately and consistent with the highest ethical standards."
Bonner wrote that both were reinstated. But they have chosen not to return, according to their lawyer, Richard Sauber. "The atmosphere was so poisonous; they did not want to go back," he said.
Lofgren's spokesman did not return a call and e-mail seeking comment. Lofgren had claimed previously that Kim and Sovereign misled her about evidence against Waters; they have claimed that Lofgren and a top aide obstructed their probe.
Bonner, who last year blocked Lofgren's effort to fire the lawyers, alleged at the time that she violated House rules by unilaterally postponing Waters' trial until after the election, a claim Lofgren denied.
Kim has since taken a position heading investigations and oversight work for the House Committee on Natural Resources.
No decision has been announced by the committee on whether to restart the Waters probe. An attorney for Waters, Stanley Brand, said the handling of Kim and Sovereign "raises more questions than it answers. . . . The investigation obviously has problems." He said the case should have been thrown out because of "all the things that have transpired."