Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., today adamantly refuted charges brought against her by the House Ethics Committee.
"I have not violated any House rules," she said at a press conference on Capitol Hill.
Waters was charged by the ethics panel with violating House rules in 2008. The charges stem from a meeting that Waters requested at the onset of the financial crisis in September 2008 with then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. Waters and Paulson did not attend the meeting, but Treasury officials and members of the National Bankers Association (NBA), a trade organization representing over 100 minority-owned firms, did.
At the time of the Treasury meeting, she noted, the bailout program didn't exist yet. In addition, in regards to claims that she acted on behalf of the bank to save her family's investment, she said, "I would never take extraordinary steps to save that amount of money."
Waters lamented that no hearing has been scheduled yet and one might not take place for months. "Such a delay is unacceptable," she said. But she stated that she will not negotiate a deal in an effort to avoid one. "I won't go behind closed doors," she said. "I won't cut a deal." She also said the OCE report outlining the case against her "ignored or disregarded key pieces of exculpatory evidence."
The real issue, she said, should not be any possible conflict of interest actions on her part, but rather why she had to fight for the Treasury meeting in the first place. "This case is not just about me. This case is also about access," she said. "It's about access for those who are not heard by the decision makers, whether it's having their questions answered or their concerns addressed."
She added, "The question at this point should be why a trade association representing over 100 minority banks couldn't get a meeting at the height of the crisis."
After Waters' opening statement, Mikael Moore, her chief of staff and grandson, delivered a lengthy power-point presentation to refute the case against the California congresswoman, including a series of e-mails and transcripts of conversations that they believe prove her innocence.
Waters recently suggested on Al Sharpton's syndicated radio show that she was targeted for investigation because of her race. She told Sharpton it was time "to stand up and be proud of the fact that we're representing our people, we're representing our issues, and we're not taking a back seat because somehow somebody believes that every time we move to be an advocate we're doing something wrong…This is the time to take it on."
But facing reporters today, Waters said flatly, "I will not be entertaining questions about the supposed issue of race in this matter."
In 2008 Waters was re-elected to her tenth term in Congress, winning 80 percent of the votes in her district of South Central Los Angeles. She chairs the House Subcommittee on Housing & Community Opportunity.
She is the second House Democrat hit with ethics charges in recent months, a serious political headache for Democrats just months before the elections. Earlier this summer Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York was charged by the ethics panel with 13 ethics violations. His trial is set to start in September. Both Rangel and Waters have been vocal in their defiance, with Waters holding a press conference and Rangel delivering a 35-minute rant on the House floor earlier this week.
"I am not about to try to get into what's a benefit or lack of benefit for either party," Waters said when asked about the elections. "I want to deal with the case."
After the press conference, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington blasted Waters' conduct. "The fact remains, Rep. Waters abused her office for personal financial gain and she must be held accountable for that," CREW director Melanie Sloan said. "No Powerpoint presentation by her grandson or anyone else can change that reality. It's a shame that Rep. Waters didn't defend the honor of her office with the same vigor she is now defending her reputation."
At that meeting and in follow-up conversations, according to an investigative subcommittee report, "the discussion centered on a single bank -- OneUnited," where Waters' husband was a board member from 2004 to 2008. According to her 2008 financial disclosure forms, Waters' husband owned two investments in OneUnited valued between $500,000 and $1 million.
Shortly after the meeting, the Massachusetts bank received $12 million in taxpayer aid from the $700 billion Wall Street bailout. It has yet to pay it back. Ultimately, the House Ethics panel determined, Waters' conduct could have helped her financially and violated conflicts of interest rules.