Maxine Waters at a press conference on ethics charges, August 13, 2010
The ethics trial of Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters was supposed to begin four months ago but has been frozen in time since November.
That’s when the Ethics Committee suspended a pair of investigating attorneys, days before the Waters hearing was supposed to begin. At the same time, the committee released a statement that said new “materials” were discovered that “may have had an effect” on the investigation.
Both lawyers are now gone. Also gone: the committee’s chief of staff.
The new top Democrat on the House Ethics Committee, Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, says, "we really are in a difficult position with respect to personnel in that we are understaffed and need to hire people."
Rep. Snchez, of Lakewood, says that she and the new Republican committee chairman, Jo Bonner of Alabama, have to approve the new staff.
"But we also are working under a legislative calendar where there is a lot of time when the Congress not in session," she says. "When members go back to their districts, it’s hard to get the work moving. So so far the pace has been extremely slow. It’s not been what I have wanted. But I’m only half of the equation."
Melanie Sloan is executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. She says, "it’s really hard to know how this weighs – whether it’s beneficial to Rep. Waters or worse for her. It seems like the investigation wasn’t handled properly. Documents that should have been turned over to the committee weren’t turned over and they may not even have been asked for by committee investigators."
Sloan suggests hiring outside counsel or even starting over.
Last week, she and other public interest groups sent a letter to the Ethics Committee that says it’s time for a status report on the Waters matter.
"I think that it’s incumbent upon the committee to issue some kind of statement," Sloan says, "and give us a path going forward because it is not fair even to Rep. Waters herself for there to be this kind of limbo for so long with an ongoing ethics investigation."
The shorthand version of the ethics charges is that Waters used her political clout to help a bank in which her husband owned stock. On Tuesday, we’ll examine the specifics of the accusations and the evidence presented so far.