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Ethics panel vs. Maxine Waters fight escalates

By Alan Silverleib, CNN Congressional Producer
updated 5:06 PM EDT, Fri June 8, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • House Ethics Committee rejects calls to release special counsel's findings
  • The ethics panel says it has addressed Waters' complaints about the inquiry
  • Waters and 68 other Democrats asked panel to release special counsel Billy Martin's findings
  • The ethics panel is investigating Waters' 2008 push for aid to a bank with ties to her husband

Washington (CNN) -- Members of the House Ethics Committee escalated their increasingly public spat with Rep. Maxine Waters on Friday, flatly refusing a request from the congresswoman and dozens of other House Democrats to release a special counsel's findings relating to an investigation involving the embattled 11-term California Democrat.

The rejection, issued one day after the request was made, came in the form of a letter released shortly after the House had adjourned for the week.

Signed by all 10 members of the panel, the letter said Thursday's written request from Waters and her supporters had made incorrect assertions about her case, repeated multiple accusations that had previously been addressed and wrongly insisted that special counsel Billy Martin had issued a formal written report related to the matter.

The response offered little hope of an amicable resolution to the roughly three-year inquiry.

It is "simply incorrect to assume Mr. Martin 'issued' a 'report' in this matter. He did not," the panel's letter said, directly quoting language used in Thursday's request. "Mr. Martin's role has not yet concluded and the Committee has not considered any reports in the matter for which he is engaged."

The letter stressed that there "is no justification for releasing the confidential details of staff advice to the Committee at this time."

The confidential details sought by Waters relate to Martin's inquiry into the merit of Waters' insistence that the panel's lengthy investigation has trampled her rights to due process. On Wednesday, the panel referenced findings from Martin in explaining its unanimous conclusion that Waters' rights had not, in fact, been violated.

Waters is facing accusations that she improperly sought federal assistance in 2008 for OneUnited Bank, a minority-owned bank in which her husband held a financial interest. The bank received $12 million in bailout funds.

The congresswoman insists that her efforts were part of a broader push to help minority-controlled financial institutions during the financial meltdown.

Among other things, Waters has accused the Ethics Committee of violating her constitutional right to a speedy and public trial and railed against the secrecy surrounding the panel's proceedings. Defenders of the top African-American legislator have raised questions about the role of race in the panel's investigation.

Waters has also questioned the propriety of communications between GOP committee members and staff investigators. Last winter, six members of the panel, including five Republicans, recused themselves from the investigation.

In its publicly released findings Wednesday, the panel's top Republican and top Democrat dismissed the congresswoman's complaints about improper discussions between investigators and various committee members, noting that there is no ban on such communications. They insisted that there is no evidence that insensitive remarks, racial or otherwise, affected the panel's decision-making process.

Wednesday's letter, however, did little to assuage the concerns of Waters or her supporters. A group of 69 House Democrats responded with Thursday's public note demanding the release of "the report issued" by Martin.

"Considering that it was the conduct of the Committee that necessitated Mr. Martin's investigation in the first place, which came at the cost of up to $800,000 to the U.S. taxpayer, we feel it is absolutely essential that the Committee move forward with absolute transparency and release Mr. Martin's report," the Democrats said.

The Ethics Committee hired Martin in July to review the case after multiple reports of possible improper communication among committee attorneys and lawmakers on the panel.

The initial investigation into Waters was led by the nonpartisan Office of Congressional Ethics, which was established in 2008 at the prompting of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California. The office referred the matter to the House Ethics Committee in summer 2009.

CNN's Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

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