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Just 10 days before it was slated to begin, the committee announced that “due to materials discovered that may have had an effect on the investigative subcommittee’s transmittal” it would be sending the case back to the investigative subcommittee. Two committee staffers were placed on administrative leave, and documents leaked to the media showed that the committee’s former staff director believed the staffers might have acted improperly and compromised the investigation.
The committee announced in July 2011 that it had hired litigator Billy Martin as an outside counsel to review Waters’ charge that the committee had violated her rights during its investigation before deciding whether the case against her could proceed.
“Serious allegations have been made about the Committee’s own conduct in this matter by Representative Waters and others,” Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) said in a joint statement issued at the time. “A thorough review of all of these serious allegations will be the very first task of the outside counsel’s engagement. ... Outside counsel will then report his findings and conclusions to the full Committee, which will then determine whether the matter should proceed.”
Though Martin’s contract was set to expire Jan. 2, the committee announced in mid-December that it had reauthorized him to bill up to $500,000 for work on the Waters case through July 31, in addition to the $300,000 he had billed at that point under the terms of his original contract.
The committee announced in February that six of its members had voluntarily recused themselves from the Waters matter at Martin’s recommendation. Republican Reps. Mike Simpson (Idaho), Steven LaTourette (Ohio), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Tim Griffin (Ark.) and Goodlatte and Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes (Md.) were appointed as substitute committee members, with Goodlatte acting as chairman and existing Ethics member Yarmuth as ranking member. These members considered Martin’s findings.
Martin’s work with the committee could continue now that it has determined the case against Waters can move forward.
“Should the matter proceed, outside counsel will continue to make appropriate recommendations and provide appropriate assistance to the Committee to complete the matter as quickly as possible,” said the committee’s statement at the time of Martin’s hiring.
It was unclear Wednesday whether the committee’s announcement would affect the likelihood that Waters will succeed retiring Rep. Barney Frank (Mass.) as the top Democrat on the Financial Services Committee.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.), her chief rival for the seat, has said she will not challenge Waters.
Frank urged the Ethics Committee to conclude its investigation quickly.
“I would hope, now that they said they’re going forward, they would conclude in time for it to be resolved [and] not to be a factor one way or the other,” he said. “I think it would be a great mistake for them to have this drag out to a point where there was uncertainty by early next year.”
Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.