House Ethics committee targeting Finance next?

posted at 2:55 pm on December 3, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

The case of the missing e-mail in the Maxine Waters ethics investigation appears to be getting deeper.  Earlier this week, the panel acknowledged that it had suspended two attorneys in the probe, including its lead investigator Cindy Morgan Kim, at the same time it postponed its hearing for Waters as new evidence emerged — specifically e-mail that tended to implicate Waters’ chief of staff and the House Finance Committee, chaired by Barney Frank.   Now the Ethics committee has turned its attention to Finance to find out why the committee withheld the e-mail during the initial investigation, and whether the panel has withheld any more evidence:

House ethics investigators have begun a probe into why the powerful House Financial Services Committee did not fully comply with its promise to turn over all documents pertinent to an investigation of subcommittee chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), according to congressional staff and other sources close to the inquiry.

After wrapping up their ethics investigation of Waters this summer and preparing for trial in October, the investigators learned about an e-mail that they considered important to their examination of Waters’s efforts to help a troubled bank tied to her husband. …

The e-mail surfaced because investigators started interviewing a former Frank aide, John Hughes, in September. They asked him at the time if he had any relevant documents, and he reported that he did not. But then they asked him in October to be a witness at Waters’s trial, and when he checked again for documents, he found the e-mail and turned it over, according to a source close to Hughes.

Barney Frank insists that he has done nothing wrong:

Frank said on Tuesday that the concern about late-arriving documents is news to him.

“When I received the Ethics Committee’s 2009 request, I instructed my staff to turn over every document in personal office and committee files. I have every reason to believe they did that,” Frank said yesterday.

The House ethics committee, called the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. But deputy chief ethics counsel C. Morgan Kim and three colleagues said in a memo to the committee members last month that they believe the e-mail “may have a material impact on the investigative subcommittee’s investigation and the resulting statement of alleged violations.”

That would be the same C. Morgan Kim who has been suspended from her duties.

When the news of the postponement broke during Thanksgiving and the nature of the problem came to light, I warned that this may turn into a huge problem for Democrats, much more so than the Rangel trial:

That opens up questions about the ethics not just of Waters but of those committee members who cooperated with Moore and his pleas for “small bank” assistance. OneUnited ended up with millions in TARP money, and unlike other applicants, got to count that cash among its assets before actually receiving the money.  The preferential treatment the bank received — unique among over 700 applicants for TARP money — seems oddly coincidental to Waters’ status and the newly exposed machinations of Moore on her behalf.

How long will it be before the House takes up this case?  One would presume that the Democrats would want to conclude the ethics trial before the end of the lame-duck session in order to have a majority on the House floor for Waters’ eventual punishment, but the news of the e-mails may have them hoping they can get everyone to forget about it forever.  That’s not likely to happen, but it may be a little more likely that a future Ethics committee may be looking into the actions of other Financial Services Committee members.

Brian Faughnan at Liberty Central notes that this may well push Waters’ trial into next year:

The inquiry over the failure to deliver this E-mail seems likely to extend into next year. Ethics Committee investigators will want a good explanation as to how such a critical piece of information was overlooked for so long.

It may also result in more than one trial next year.  If Finance withheld this and other documentation related to the OneUnited case deliberately, censures may be the least of their worries.


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