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Ethics Must Still Settle Last Year’s Issues

Committee Has New Chairman, New Name and New Offices but Old Business

File Photo
Among its work when the House Ethics Committee convenes is a trial over whether Rep. Maxine Waters broke ethics rules.

The House Ethics Committee will move into new office space in the 112th Congress with a new chairman and a new official name, but it still might need to address some old issues.

At the close of the 111th Congress, the panel had yet to publicly resolve its work on multiple inquiries — including allegations involving Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and an investigation tied to ex-Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) — as well as internal staff issues and other matters.

Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) tapped Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) in late December to serve as the panel’s chairman, but Republican and Democratic leaders must still dole out the committee’s remaining nine seats, a universally unpopular assignment among lawmakers. The Ethics Committee is typically among the last committees to organize at the start of a new Congress.

Spokesmen for incoming Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Boehner could not confirm Tuesday when those assignments will be announced. 

But when the committee does convene, it must determine whether to continue any of the work begun by its previous incarnation, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. 

Among its outstanding tasks is an ethics trial over whether Waters violated House rules. The committee indefinitely postponed it in November.

At the time, the committee announced it had uncovered new evidence in the case — in which Waters’ chief of staff, Mikael Moore, is alleged to have tried to secure federal support for a bank in which Waters and her husband held hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of stock — and would return the matter to an investigative subcommittee for further review.

Waters has denied wrongdoing in the case and has criticized the committee for its attempt to reopen an investigation.

It is not unusual for Ethics to re-establish an investigative subcommittee in a new Congress when work remains incomplete. But the Waters case may represent the first time an investigative panel has been directed to reconvene after issuing charges against a Member, which the panel did in August.

Should Ethics opt to re-establish the subcommittee, however, it could give Waters a new opportunity to object to the panel’s membership.

Under the Ethics panel’s internal rules, a Member under investigation can ask for any member of a subcommittee to be disqualified. But the rules also state that each subcommittee member remains “the sole judge” of whether he or she should leave the panel.

In December, Waters also sought to force an investigation into the suspension of two House ethics committee aides who worked on her case and were put on administrative leave the same day her trial was postponed.

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