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Ethics Committee Details 'Lessons Learned' From Maxine Waters Case

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

The investigative subcommittee instead adopted a "Statement of Alleged Violation" that described three possible counts of misconduct against Waters. Waters held a press conference in which she disclosed information about the matter that was subject to a nondisclosure agreement. Then-Ethics Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) advised Waters in writing to adhere to the agreement. The back-and-forth caused relations within the committee to disintegrate.

"At this point, based on numerous interviews and documents reviewed, it is clear that members of the staff, particularly the two senior staff members on the Waters [adjudicatory subcommittee] team, began disagreeing with certain decisions made by the former Chair and began communicating with Republican Committee Members regarding their frustrations," the independent counsel's report released Tuesday said.

Internal committee documents about these concerns were later published in Politico. The exchanges showed that the committee's staff director at the time believed that the staffers' communications had likely compromised the Waters investigation.

Waters said the documents were evidence that her due process rights had been violated and that the committee's case against her should be dropped. In July 2011, the committee brought on litigator Billy Martin as an outside counsel. Martin was asked to examine whether committee members and staffers had acted in a way that improperly affected the Waters case before deciding whether it could proceed.

The committee announced in February that six of its members had voluntarily recused themselves from the Waters case at Martin's recommendation. Republican Reps. Mike Simpson (Idaho), Steven LaTourette (Ohio), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Tim Griffin (Ark.) and Goodlatte, as well as Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes (Md.) served on the committee that considered Martin's findings, along with Democratic Reps. Yarmuth, Donna Edwards (Md.), Pedro Pierluisi (Puerto Rico) and Joe Courtney (Conn.), who are permanent members of the committee.

In June, the committee announced that Martin had found no indication that the case had been mishandled to an extent that deprived Waters of her right to a fair hearing. At that point, with the first phase of his review complete, Martin moved onto the "substance" of the allegations that had been made against Waters. His review included 150,000 pages of documents and numerous interviews. The length of the total investigation was exacerbated by the "significant number of motions and complaints" raised by Waters, the "complicated task" of tracking legislative efforts made by staffers and offices and the "breakdown of communications" among committee members in the last Congress, according to the report released by the committee.

"Outside Counsel recommended that the Committee find that the evidence here does not establish that Representative Waters violated House rules ... it appears that Representative Waters recognized and made efforts to avoid a conflict of interest with respect to OneUnited," the report said.

Martin's findings set the stage for last week's hearing and the committee formally clearing Waters of wrongdoing today.

"The Waters Committee finds that Representative Waters took at least three steps to inform her [chief of staff] of her conflict of interest with respect to OneUnited and to prevent the [chief of staff] from acting on that conflict," the committee's report said.

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