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House Ethics Panel hires outside counsel to investigate partisanship, Waters case

WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee named an outside counsel Wednesday to investigate its own partisanship, as well as allegations against Rep. Maxine Waters, a senior Democrat who helps oversee the financial services industry.

In an extraordinary announcement acknowledging deep internal conflicts, the committee said Washington lawyer Billy Martin's first task will be to investigate how the committee handled the Waters case. Internal documents, obtained by the Associated Press over the past several months, show that two committee attorneys last year communicated solely with Republicans about Waters and other cases.

The case of Waters, D-Calif., is focused on whether she tried to aid a troubled bank where her husband owns stock. The investigation has been in limbo for eight months because the two lawyers and the former chief counsel left the Ethics Committee. All five Democrats from last year quit the committee over the communications with Republicans, forcing the panel to start over with new lawmakers and staff.

Waters this week demanded that the case be dismissed on grounds that partisanship has made it impossible to give her a fair proceeding. The committee has five members from each party and its investigative staff is supposed to be nonpartisan. The five Republicans from last year remained on the committee.

The case partly focused on a meeting Waters requested between Treasury Department officials and representatives of an association representing minority-owned banks, including Boston-based OneUnited.

The committee also investigated bailout legislation that would have helped the bank, where Waters' husband, Sidney Williams, owns stock that would have been worthless if the bank failed.

Waters has contended that her efforts were to help all troubled minority-owned banks, especially those — like OneUnited — that were in trouble because of their investments in collapsing mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

House Ethics Panel hires outside counsel to investigate partisanship, Waters case 07/20/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 21, 2011 12:34am]
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