February 18, 2012

Ethics committee recusals latest saga in bungled Waters investigation

In an unprecedented move, six members of the House Ethics Committee recused themselves from the investigation of California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters Friday. Five of the six are Republicans.

“Both the Committee and [Attorney William] Martin recognize that recusal is an extremely rare occurrence and should not be sought without careful consideration by the Members,” Alabama Republican Rep. Jo Bonner, the committee’s chairman, wrote in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner Friday.

“While the Members believe that they each can render an impartial and unbiased decision in any proceeding related to this matter, the Committee takes this extraordinary measure — in this unique circumstance — to further the best interests of the House and to permit this matter to be brought to a conclusion,” wrote Bonner.

The recusals are the latest chapter in a book full of nightmares for the committee’s seemingly cut-and-dry investigation of Waters, who allegedly set up a meeting between OneUnited Bank and U.S. Treasury officials in 2008. The bank, where her husband was a board member at the time of the meeting, later received $12 million in taxpayer bailout money.

The investigation began in August 2010 when the committee charged Waters with violating House rules. Waters is a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee and has denied any misconduct.

In July 2011, almost a year after first charging Waters, Politico obtained internal documents showing partisan infighting among committee members, politicizing the probe. Less than two weeks later, the committee hired an outside counsel, attorney William Martin, to continue the inquiry. (RELATED: More on the Waters inquiry)

Nearly six months and $300,000 later, the committee voted to extend Martin’s contract until July 2012, citing “unavoidable delays.” Martin, who has reportedly reviewed tens of thousands of documents, has been granted $50,000 to $500,000 until July to spend on the investigation.

Thus Martin could possibly spend up to $800,000 in taxpayer funds looking into the Waters case, with no sign that investigation is close to wrapping up.

The members recusing themselves are Bonner, California Rep. Linda Sanchez, Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas Rep. Michael Conaway, Pennsylvania Rep. Charles Dent and Mississippi Rep. Gregg Harper. All but Sanchez are Republicans.

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