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Ethics stiff-arms House Dems' demands in Waters case

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The House Ethics Committee shot down a request by 68 House Democrats to explain its decision to move forward with its two-year-old case against Rep. Maxine Waters after dismissing the California Democrat’s argument that her due-process rights were violated.

A group of 69 Democrats wrote a letter to the committee Thursday, calling on the panel to release a report by outside special counsel Billy Martin, who was hired last year to look into a string of accusations that the panel mishandled the case against Mrs. Waters.

But on Friday the panel said that such a report on the matter does not exist, and after a thorough and “unprecedented” review of Mrs. Waters concerns, the bipartisan committee unanimously found that none of her due-process rights were violated and that it did not need to provide additional proof besides the legal arguments spelled out in the Thursday letter.

Even though the committee acknowledged that a former member of the staff made “inappropriate remarks related to race,” the panel found that the conduct did not impact the investigation.

“We do not minimize such conduct,” the acting chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, and the acting ranking member John Yarmuth, Kentucky Democrat, wrote to Mrs. Waters and the 68 other members of Congress who signed Thursday’s letter. “However, as a matter of fact and constitutional principle, the committee’s outside counsel, Mr. Martin, concluded, and the committee unanimously found, that the conduct in question did not affect the investigation, or impact the decision-making in this case.”

Members of the original ethics committee, who were accused of botching the case, were forced to recuse themselves earlier this year from any involvement in the Waters case. House leaders appointed Mr. Goodlatte, Mr. Yarmuth and four others to serve on a panel aimed at sorting through the messy charges and counter-charges.

Even though Mr. Martin and the panel confirmed some of Mrs. Waters’ allegations, such as the likelihood that committee staffers leaked documents in her case to the media, he and the committee unanimously concluded that none of Mrs. Waters’ Constitutional protections were violated because the House Ethics Committee does not operate outside normal legal constraints and the inappropriate behavior on the part of staff did not bias anyone or the case against her.

The committee now plans to move forward with its case against Mrs. Waters, which focuses on whether she tried to steer federal bailout funds to a minority-owned bank where her husband was a shareholder.

In justifying the absence of a formal report on the due-process allegations, the panel said Mr. Martin was hired to “advise and assist the committee,” not to serve as a special outside counsel operating independent of the committee.

“In that role, Mr. Martin provided confidential and thorough advice to the committee must as congressional staff advise members and House committee on a daily basis, so that the members and committee may make their own informed findings and conclusions,” Mr. Goodlatte and Mr. Yarmuth wrote.

Weighing Mrs. Waters’ due-process concerns was just Mr. Martin’s first duty, and if his advice to members was made public, it would compromise the integrity of the entire investigation, they added. If the committee decides to release a report, it will do so after the matter is concluded, not before.

“If the ongoing work of the Committee’s professional staff including outside counsel, were made public prior to completion, it would defeat the purpose of having a nonpartisan, confidential process — keeping matters of House discipline free from political or outside influence,” they wrote.

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