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California Democrat charged with House ethics violations

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Waters tweets 'no case' on charges
  • Rep. Maxine Waters denies breaking any House rules
  • Waters joins Rep. Charlie Rangel in possibly facing trial by the House ethics committee
  • Waters is facing charges for violating House rules
  • Waters is charged with seeking federal aid in 2008 for a bank with ties to her husband

Washington (CNN) -- A House ethics investigative panel has charged a high-ranking Democratic congresswoman with violating House rules by seeking federal assistance for a bank with financial ties to her husband.

According to the House ethics committee, California Rep. Maxine Waters helped arrange a meeting in September 2008 between Massachusetts-based OneUnited Bank and Treasury Department officials.

OneUnited Bank ultimately received $12 million in bailout funds. Waters is a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee.

Waters, according to a preliminary report, called then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson during the height of the financial crisis "and requested that Treasury Department officials meet with representatives from the National Bankers Association," an organization representating over 100 minority-owned banks.

Video: Ethics charges plague Democrats

"A meeting was in fact granted, however, the discussion at the meeting focused on a single bank -- OneUnited. Rep. Waters' husband had been a board member of the bank from 2004 to 2008 and, at the time of the meeting, was a stock holder of the bank."

The report states that Waters approached Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts, to say that she was "in a predicament because her husband had been involved in the bank, but 'OneUnited people' were coming to her for help."

Waters, "according to (Frank) ... knew she should say no, but it bothered her. It was clear to (Frank) that this was a 'conflict of interest problem.'"

Frank's advice to Waters, the report states, was to 'stay out of it.'"

According to Waters' 2008 financial disclosure statement -- as mentioned in the report -- her husband had two investments in OneUnited at the time valued between $500,000 and $1 million.

"There is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Waters' conduct may have violated" House rules, the report concludes.

Waters, a 71-year-old 10-term Democrat representing the Watts section of Los Angeles, insists she did nothing wrong.

"I have not violated any House rules," she said in a statement released Monday. "I simply will not be forced to admit to something I did not do."

Waters asserted that "the record will clearly show that in advocating on behalf of minority banks neither my office nor I benefited in any way, engaged in improper action or influenced anyone. ... The case against me has no merit."

Waters stressed that the meeting "was requested and scheduled on behalf of the (National Bankers Association), not on behalf of OneUnited Bank as has been suggested."

The announcement by the ethics committee means Waters may now face a trial by committee members tasked with determining whether there is "clear and convincing evidence" she broke congressional rules.

Also facing a possible ethics committee trial: Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-New York. Rangel, the former chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, has been accused of 13 violations of House rules involving alleged financial wrongdoing and harming the credibility of Congress.

Both trials could take place in September -- only a few weeks before the midterm elections. The prospect of inquiries into two high-profile Democrats has compounded the fears of congressional Democrats nervous about their prospects in November.

The growing likelihood of trials for Waters and Rangel also adds the explosive element of race to the political equation. Both representatives are leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus, and OneUnited Bank is one of the largest minority-owned banks in America.

CNN's Alan Silverleib, Craig Broffman and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report