House panel says Waters' rights not violated

Story highlights

  • The House Ethics Committee says Rep. Maxine Waters has been treated fairly
  • Waters argues her due process rights have been violated in a lengthy investigation
  • The ethics panel is investigating Waters' push for aid to a bank with ties to her husband
The House committee tasked with investigating ethics allegations against California Rep. Maxine Waters has concluded that the congresswoman's right to due process was never violated during the panel's lengthy -- and still incomplete -- inquiry.
In a letter to Waters released Wednesday, the House Ethics Committee's top Democrat and top Republican said the panel "has unanimously found that you have been afforded notice and the opportunity to be heard. As such, there has been no violation of the due process rights to which you are entitled."
The letter noted that outside counsel Billy Martin agreed with the unanimous finding, and stressed that the committee "is entitled to continue its consideration of your matter."
Waters' office offered no immediate response. The Los Angeles Democrat has repeatedly demanded a faster resolution to the roughly three-year investigation and complained about allegedly improper communications between Republican panel members and staff investigators.
Waters is accused of improperly seeking federal assistance in 2008 for OneUnited Bank, a minority-owned bank in which her husband held a financial interest. The bank ultimately received $12 million in bailout funds.
The 11-term congresswoman insists her efforts on behalf of OneUnited were part of a broader effort to assist minority-controlled financial institutions. While complaining about a supposed violation of her constitutional right to a speedy and public trial, Waters also has railed against the secrecy surrounding the panel's proceedings.
Wednesday's response to Waters' complaints stated that the Constitution's Sixth Amendment "does not apply to committee proceedings, and you thus do not have the same rights to a speedy 'trial' that a criminal defendant has."
The letter noted that while "an unreasonable delay could in theory amount to a due process violation, here the delay has resulted primarily from the legitimate need for further investigation."
It also dismissed Waters' complaints about improper discussions between investigators and various committee members, noting that there is no ban on such communications.
The letter acknowledged the leaking of confidential information relating to the committee's investigation, but claimed Waters herself was partly responsible for the problem. It noted an August 2010 Waters press conference in which the congresswoman "disclosed documents containing significant evidentiary information regarding your matter."
Turning to the question of whether any "inappropriate and/or racially insensitive remarks may have biased the investigation" of Waters -- a top African-American legislator -- the letter acknowledged "some evidence of insensitive remarks by a former committee staff member." It asserted, however, "that any such insensitivity did not affect any decision-making" on the part of panel members with respect to the case.
Waters' case has placed a harsh light on the Ethics Committee's operations and procedures. In February, six members of the panel -- including five Republicans -- recused themselves from the investigation after Martin, the outside counsel, recommended they no longer participate in the probe. The recusals were requested out of "an abundance of caution and to avoid even an appearance of unfairness," according to a letter from Alabama Rep. Jo Bonner, a former GOP leader of the panel.
The Ethics Committee hired Martin in July 2011 to review the case after multiple reports of possible improper communication among committee attorneys and lawmakers on the panel. To date, the committee has been authorized to pay him up to $1 million.