The stand-in members of the House Ethics Committee handling the conflict-of-interest probe of Rep. Maxine Waters formally cleared the California Democrat today and, in doing so, recommended that the committee note "lessons learned" and take additional precautions to avoid partisan behavior.
A statement that the members had voted unanimously to clear Waters and to issue a letter of reproval for her grandson and Chief of Staff Mikael Moore included nine recommendations for the general House community. Five concerned avoiding the existence or appearance of partisanship within the Ethics Committee and four, including avoiding the hiring of grandchildren, were aimed at minimizing the chance for future conflicts of interest within House offices.
"It is our recommendation for any Member that serves on this Committee that he or she constantly evaluate their actions on the Committee, to ensure that they are living up to the highest standards," acting Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and acting ranking member John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) wrote.
"We believe that the full Committee, or the House, should consider adopting policies that recognize that employer/employee relationships with grandchildren can be just as fraught with risk as other familial relationships in the workplace," the statement's recommendations concluded.
The statement was accompanied by the substitute committee's report, the findings of an outside counsel brought in to assist in the matter, a report on the matter from an independent ethics office and a letter of reproval for Moore. The release of the documents concluded a case that has spanned three years and two Congresses.
The committee last week held a rare public hearing at Moore's request and said in its report that it had "considered his testimony before reaching the Committee's conclusion." Moore declined to comment on the case after today's statement.
Waters' exoneration paves the way for her to pursue the top Democratic slot on the Financial Services Committee when ranking member Barney Frank (Mass.) retires at the end of this Congress.
The Waters probe began in the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, which in April 2009 began reviewing allegations that the 11-term lawmaker had asked Treasury Department officials to meet with representatives from the National Bankers Association. The office, which acts as a fact-finding body that refers its findings to the Ethics Committee for conclusion and action, focused on the group's discussion of assisting OneUnited Bank, given that Waters' husband had a financial stake in the financial institution and had previously served on its board.
In July of that year, the office voted to send the matter to the committee for further investigation. The committee formed an investigative subcommittee to look into the case, and the next spring it agreed to release a report that criticized the conduct in the case but not recommend any sanctions. The committee's chief counsel and staff director at the time, however, advised that they could not publish a report that criticized a Member without giving them a chance to respond in a hearing.