Ethics panel to hold hearing in Maxine Waters case

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Ethics Committee will hold a hearing Friday in the case of Rep. Maxine Waters, a senior Democrat on the Financial Services Committee, who disputes allegations she tried to steer U.S. bailout money to a bank where her husband owns stock.

The hearing indicates the committee is nearing a conclusion in its investigation of the California Democrat, who has maintained her innocence of any ethical wrongdoing.

Waters, also a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, insists that she only requested a meeting at the Treasury Department on behalf of an association of troubled minority-owned banks that included OneUnited — the bank where her husband is an investor.

She has contended she had nothing to do with the federal government’s eventual decision to give the bank a $12 million bailout, and U.S. officials involved in the decision backed her up on that point.

The banks were in trouble because of their investments in mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which were taken over by the federal government.

The ethics committee has a range of options if it concludes a House member or employee violated ethics rules. It can issue a report and send a letter criticizing someone’s conduct, or recommend more serious punishment to the House. The House could vote to reprimand a member, approve a more serious censure or, in extreme cases, expel a lawmaker.

Waters has contended the committee has denied her the right to properly present her case. The hearing will allow her to do so, and clear the way for a resolution of the case.

The case has caused turmoil within the committee, which has five members from each party. Last February, all five Republicans on the committee and the panel’s ranking Democrat withdrew from the case to avoid any questions about impartiality.

The decision followed earlier dissension, when a former Democratic chairman suspended the two staff attorneys who originally worked on the case because of their contacts with committee Republicans that excluded Democrats.

Last July, the committee named Washington attorney Billy Martin as an outside counsel to investigate Waters’ conduct.

The committee so far has declined the request of Waters, backed by 68 House colleagues, to make public Martin’s findings in the investigation.

Waters, whose district is in Los Angeles, is in her 11th term and won her last race with 79 percent of the vote.

She’s the second most senior member of the Financial Services Committee, which oversees the financial industry.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.