WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Ethics Committee is likely nearing the end of an investigation of Rep. Maxine Waters, a senior Democrat on the Financial Services Committee who is fighting allegations that she steered a $12 million federal bailout to a bank where her husband owns stock.
The committee is conducting a hearing Friday and could issue its final report after the proceeding concludes.
The case could have political implications for Democrats because the California lawmaker would be the senior party member next year on the committee that oversees the financial industry. Waters, who routinely wins her Los Angeles district overwhelmingly, could become chairman if Democrats win control of the House.
Her position on the committee also would be important to the Congressional Black Caucus because Waters is a senior member of the group. The caucus has been deeply concerned with how the mortgage foreclosure crisis affects minorities.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the committee of five Republicans and five Democrats has the option of issuing its final report and wrapping up the case. Waters denies any violations of standards of conduct.
The Ethics Committee would be limited to issuing a public report or admonishing Waters in a letter if it finds that she committed ethical misconduct — or simply used poor judgment. That's because the panel has not taken the procedural steps that would allow it to recommend a House vote for any of the three most serious punishments: a reprimand, censure or expulsion.
The key issue in the case is whether Waters requested a meeting at the Treasury Department to assist an association of troubled minority-owned banks — as she contends — or whether she was trying to get a bailout for OneUnited, the bank where her husband is an investor.
She has contended she had nothing to do with the government's eventual decision to give OneUnited 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 government.
Waters has been under investigation since 2009, starting with the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. The case later shifted to the Ethics Committee, where it has caused much dissension.
The two committee lawyers who originally worked on the case were suspended by the panel's former Democratic chairman, who accused them of meeting with committee Republicans while excluding Democrats.
In February, all five Republicans on the committee and the panel's ranking Democrat withdrew from the case to avoid any questions about impartiality. In July, the committee named Washington attorney Billy Martin as an outside counsel to investigate Waters' conduct.
Waters, in her 11th term, won her last race with 79 percent of the vote.