Six members withdraw from Waters probe
February 17th, 2012
07:20 PM ET
3 years ago

Six members withdraw from Waters probe

Washington (CNN) - In an unusual move Friday, six members of the House Ethics Committee recused themselves from the investigation of Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, after outside counsel hired to review the case recommended they no longer participate in the probe.

A letter from Alabama Republican Jo Bonner read on the House floor requested that House Speaker John Boehner appoint six new members to continue the inquiry, effectively replacing himself, four additional Republicans, and one Democrat two and a half years into the investigation.

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"I am writing to request the appointment of six substitute members," said Bonner, a Republican congressman from Alabama.

The ethics committee hired outside counsel Billy Martin in July of 2011 to review the case after multiple reports of possible improper communication among committee attorneys and lawmakers on the panel.

After interviewing current and former Ethics Committee members and staff, as well as assessing "tens of thousands of pages of documents," Martin recommended that leadership and four sitting members recuse themselves from the inquiry.

Recusal recommendations were not expected to occur until Martin completed his review, but because "one necessary witness refused to appear voluntarily" and planned to exercise Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination when subpoenaed to testify, Martin was compelled to "advance that timing."

"The witness' refusal to answer questions prevents the completion of the due process review," Bonner said.

However, he noted that Martin had not discovered any evidence that indicated "actual bias or partiality," any "conflict which would cause disqualification," or anything that "should cause a mandatory recusal."

A source close to the investigation told CNN this kind of move was unprecedented.

Members stepping aside include Bonner, Texas Reps. Michael McCaul and Michael Conaway, Pennsylvania Rep. Charles Dent, and Rep. Gregg Harper of Mississippi-all Republican-as well as Democratic California Rep. Linda Sanchez, who served as ranking member on the bipartisan panel.

Bonner listed reasoning for the action saying, "The members requested recusal because 1) They believe that, out of an abundance of caution and to avoid even an appearance of unfairness, their voluntary recusal will eliminate the possibility of questions being raised as to the partiality or bias of committee members considering this manner; 2) They want to assure the public the House and Representative Waters that this investigation is continuing in a fair and unbiased manner; and 3) They want to move this matter forward in a manner that supports the greatest public confidence in the ultimate conclusions of the committee."

Democratic Reps. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Donna Edwards of Maryland, Pedro Pierluisi from Puerto Rico, and Joe Courtney of Connecticut remain part of the investigation as ethics committee members.

In October 2009 the ethics committee unanimously voted to investigate whether Waters violated any House rules when she helped arrange a meeting in September 2008 between OneUnited, a minority-owned bank in which her husband had financial interest, and Treasury Department officials.

The bank was seeking federal assistance and Waters is a senior member of the House Financial Services committee.

Waters has asserted her innocence since the beginning of the probe. An ethics trial scheduled for November of 2010 was postponed. The following month Waters insisted that committee leadership "set the record straight" and examine media reports of misconduct on the part of two attorneys leading the case against her.

In July 2011 Waters sent a letter urging the recusal of all members of the ethics committee involved in the investigation.

Waters' office has not yet responded to a CNN request for comment on the recusals.

Following Martin's recommendation that "no member who served on the committee in the 111th Congress should serve as a substitute," Boehner named GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte from Virginia to serve as acting chairman for the duration of the investigation. Fellow Republicans including Rep. Michael Simpson of Idaho, Ohio Rep. Steven LaTourette, West Virginia Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, and Arkansas Rep. Tim Griffin were also named as substitutes. Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland replaces Sanchez, and Yarmuth will serve as acting ranking member for the duration of the investigation.

Though Bonner, Sanchez, McCaul, Conaway, Dent, and Harper have recused themselves from the Waters probe, the letter confirms they will continue to serve on the ethics committee for all other purposes, with Bonner serving as chairman and Sanchez as ranking member.

- Follow the CNN Capitol Hill team on Twitter @CapitolHillCNN.

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Filed under: Congress
soundoff (99 Responses)
  1. Dave

    Maxine Waters is as guilty of insider trading and loaning our federal money to a failing bank that both her husband and she were part of as she is black, and that's a fact jack!

    February 17, 2012 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  2. DocNY

    Isn't this why we have a Justice Department for the whole Checks & Balances. Why are we trusting Congress to police itself.

    February 17, 2012 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  3. Dave

    The only reason she has not received a House trial or ethics violations is that her mentor Queen Palosi and King Obama has kept it from coming up, that she is black, and have you noticed how she seems to have just dropped and is staying in the unobserved shadows out of sight?

    February 17, 2012 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  4. Joshua Ludd

    The Republicans make up the vast majority of those who have to recuse themselves from an ethics probe? What a huge surprise!

    February 17, 2012 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  5. ToldUso

    Sounds to me like they're all guilty of things similar to those Ms. Waters is accused of.

    Oh..... and FIRST!

    February 17, 2012 11:19 pm at 11:19 pm |
  6. nik green

    The House Ethics Committee. Thats like employing the Gambino Family to investigate the Mafia....

    February 17, 2012 11:19 pm at 11:19 pm |
  7. Jimh77

    So, Elcapiton still not all, Allowing comments. Hmm, equal rights media would complain if they didn't get their story.
    Guess you can be a dictator too. You like to be 1 sided? I stand by my first comment. Guilty! As you are also.

    February 17, 2012 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  8. Dennis Pence

    Spending more of our taxpayer dollars for something that should have been proven a long time ago. She's guilty, but you can bet she won't get more than a slap on the wrist. They take care of each other – they try to make it look legitimate, but those of us who follow the process know better.

    February 17, 2012 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  9. nolimits3333

    Both sides are scrambling because they don't want anyone to reveal where the bodies are buried.

    February 17, 2012 11:59 pm at 11:59 pm |
  10. Kenny

    It's been almost 4 years since this was supposed to have taken place and they can't even conclude in almost 2.5 years if any violation of House Rules took place. I see now why they can't get anything else done. All they are doing is blood sucking the taxpayers for Federal Tax Dollars to keep this investigation going to the "LAwyers" can make out like "Fat Rats" on the Government Dime.

    February 18, 2012 12:02 am at 12:02 am |
  11. w

    Sounds like Waters or her party has some dirt on the good people investigating her... politics is an amazing thing isn't it? She's a true Washington insider! Does anyone really believe they are dropping out due to conflict or wanting the truth to come out???? Yah, right! Interesting that only Dems are staying on the panel huh??? The truth doesn't matter...never does in Washington. It's all in who holds the best cards and money. Our Country is trully doomed. God bless America!

    February 18, 2012 12:16 am at 12:16 am |
  12. blake

    Maxine Waters = extremely stupid, annoying, and corrupt

    February 18, 2012 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  13. B33r30

    The headline almost implies that everyone is running away from an investigation that's fruitless and without merit. It appears the real truth is, there's a lot more heat than expected, and they're distancing themselves from the white hot flames.

    February 18, 2012 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  14. Raisindetere

    Anyone surprised? They're all lying crooks... especially the probe's target.

    February 18, 2012 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  15. craig

    How about a committee composed of regular citizens who aren't part of the club?

    February 18, 2012 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  16. Frustrated in America

    She's a crook, just like the rest of them.

    February 18, 2012 01:11 am at 1:11 am |
  17. Surfer George

    "The ethics committee hired outside counsel Billy Martin in July of 2011 to review the case after multiple reports of possible improper communication among committee attorneys and lawmakers on the panel."

    Corruption within the ranks of those investigating corruption? INCLUDING one person who intended to take the 5th?
    And those are the people we're electing? Worse yet, those are the best of the people we have to chose from???

    February 18, 2012 01:32 am at 1:32 am |
  18. yoga enthusiast

    another 3 ring circus in DC

    February 18, 2012 01:43 am at 1:43 am |
  19. Alan

    She been a crook and a lier since she first got elected to public office. No surprise here. Who's next?

    February 18, 2012 01:59 am at 1:59 am |
  20. Gary Holmes

    Why do I have this feeling, that this investigation is going nowhere?? It is time for the government to set up a committee outside of Congress, to review these Ethics violations, otherwise, all we have is "the fox guarding the chickenhouse".

    February 18, 2012 02:09 am at 2:09 am |
  21. Drinnc

    Waters is the personification of an angry black woman. She should recuse herself from serving in congress and go home.

    February 18, 2012 02:29 am at 2:29 am |
  22. James PDX

    I'm pretty sure none of these politicians has any business being on an "ethics" committee anyway.

    February 18, 2012 03:04 am at 3:04 am |
  23. 240 Gordy

    Republicans head for the hills when their own corruption might be exposed. Give them H3LL Maxine.

    February 18, 2012 03:40 am at 3:40 am |
  24. Bye Bye Teabaggers

    It's a political easter egg hunt... no smoke. no gun.

    February 18, 2012 04:15 am at 4:15 am |
  25. boyamidumb

    Ethics in Washington????Oxymoron.

    actually we are the morons

    February 18, 2012 04:36 am at 4:36 am |
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