House Ethics Committee accuses Maxine Waters of conflict of interest

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File photo: Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus co-founder and Chair Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) delivers comments during a news conference on Capitol Hill May 8, 2008 in Washington, DC.

The U.S. House Ethics Committee has formally accused Los Angeles Democrat Maxine Waters of violating House rules by intervening with Treasury officials on behalf of a bank in which she had a financial interest.

The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct says that when Congresswoman Waters asked Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to meet with the National Bankers Association – a trade group for minority owned banks – she violated conflict of interest rules.

At that meeting, the Committee alleges, the parties discussed only one bank: OneUnited, a bank in which Waters’ husband owned stock and on whose board he had served.

In a statement, Congresswoman Waters dismissed the accusations as “frivolous and unfounded.” She wrote that she won’t “be forced to admit to something” she “did not do.” Waters said she made the call on behalf of more than 100 minority owned banks and did not attend the meeting. She added that she fully disclosed her assets, in line with House rules.

The ethics committee plans to schedule a public hearing on the matter.

The last time the House ethics committee held such a hearing was in 2002 when Ohio Congressman James Trafficant represented himself before the committee. He told his colleagues, "I want you to disregard all the opposing counsel has said. I think they’re delusionary. I think they’ve had something funny for lunch in their meal. I think they should be handcuffed to a chain link fence, flogged and all of their hearsay evidence should be thrown the hell out. And if they lie again, I’m going to go over and kick them in the crotch." Despite the Ohio Democrat’s colorful threat, the House kicked him out.

Trafficant was only the second member of Congress expelled since the Civil War – and even then, it happened only after he’d been convicted of bribery, racketeering and tax evasion.

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