For nearly two years, the committee has had an open investigation into CBC member Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who is alleged to have arranged meetings with Treasury Department officials on behalf of a bank in which her husband owned stock. An ethics trial was slated to begin last November but was postponed when the committee uncovered new information. In July the committee took the unprecedented step of hiring an independent investigator to look into the botched Waters investigation after emails surfaced that showed the panelís former staff director was concerned the case had been mishandled. The independent investigator has until Jan. 2. to decide whether the Waters case can move forward.
The Ethics Committee has also resumed a preliminary investigation of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), after the Justice Department last month withdrew its request that the committee hold off while it brought itís case against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D). Jackson is alleged to have offered to raise money for Blagojevich in exchange for being appointed to the Senate seat left open when President Barack Obama was elected to the White House in 2008.
In August, the committee also announced that it would continue investigating a $40,000 loan that CBC member Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) received in 2007 but said it would do so without forming an investigative subcommittee.
At the same time, the committee declined to investigate Rep. Jean Schmidtís receipt of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of legal fees, saying they were an improper gift, but that the Ohio Republican was not aware of the arrangement.
The inquiries into Richardson, Waters, Jackson and Meeks are the only probes the Ethics Committee has confirmed in public statements.
The Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent agency established by the House in 2008 to review allegations of misconduct and refer matters to the Ethics Committee for action, has also drawn the ire of CBC members. The OCE is known to have referred the cases of Richardson, Meeks and Waters for further investigation and there are likely others.
Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), who was the subject of an OCE inquiry last year and was later cleared, recently offered an amendment to a legislative branch appropriations bill that would have cut OCE funding by 40 percent, chopping $619,200 from the officeís $1.5 million budget. Though the Watt amendment was defeated 102-302, it had the support of some caucus members.
Cleaver said the Richardson probe has not hastened the call to disband the Office of Congressional Ethics but acknowledged that the office remains unpopular among caucus members.
A CBC aide said that ethics charges against the groupís members will likely come up an upcoming caucus meeting.
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