On Monday, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., joined Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., in being charged with questionable conduct by the House of Representatives Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. The charges were prompted by a report by the recently created Office of Congressional Ethics a watchdog group set up to monitor congressional behavior.
Waters is alleged, while George Bush was still president, to have set up a meeting with Treasury officials to assist OneUnited Bank, a minority-owned bank in which her husband owns stock and was a former board member. The bank later received $12 million in TARP bailout money arranged by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who heads the House Financial Services Committee. Waters is the committee's third-ranking member.
Waters plans to openly fight the charge. "In sum, the case against me has no merit," she said in a statement released in conjunction with the House ethics committee announcing it had finished its investigation into the matter," writes Politico.com.
According to The New York Times, a trial of two prominent Democrats on ethics charges would be precedent-setting. "The expected trial, coming just after the start of a similar proceeding on Thursday for Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York, would be a modern-day precedent for the House, Congressional officials said. At no time in at least the last two decades have two sitting House members faced a public hearing detailing allegations against them."
Both Waters and Rangel have chosen to fight to clear their names publicly instead of making a deal with the committee for a mild reprimand.
Some argue that the two, both African American, are being unfairly targeted for activities routinely practiced in Washington.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus earlier in the year called for changing the rules governing the work of the Office of Congressional Ethics. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio introduced such legislation. Fudge called for restricting disclosure of investigations by the Office of Congressional Ethics and requiring it to "have a sworn complaint from a citizen with personal knowledge of alleged wrongdoing before initiating a probe."
The Cleveland congresswoman felt that leaks unduly taint those being investigated prior to the placing of charges. In the past "only members of Congress were allowed to initiate complaints," she said.
Fudge's resolution had 19 co-sponsors in the Congressional Black Caucus.
The New York Times editorialized against the proposed new law.
Commenting on the case over the weekend, President Obama said the allegations against Congressman Rangel were "troubling," indicating the Harlem representative wanted to end his career with dignity. Nobel Prize-winning economist and Times columnist Paul Krugman on ABC News termed the charges "minor" and wondered about the huge fuss made over them by the press. He compared the attention given to Rangel to the scant coverage given Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., also being investigated for corruption.
The White House has denied Obama is trying to encourage Rangel to leave office. Concerns do exist that public trials in Congress in September could damage Democrats chances later in the fall.
Both Waters and Rangel are veteran fighters and advocates.
Photo: Rep. Maxine Waters (waters.house.gov)