Waters demands ethics trial

Last night, Maxine Waters responded to the publication of a charge from the House Ethics Committee with something slightly less than remorse.  Following the example of Charlie Rangel, Waters denied any wrongdoing and demanded a public hearing to fight the allegation.  That will put two Democrats in the dock on corruption charges just as the midterm campaigns start their final stretch:

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) strongly denied allegations that she broke House ethics rules and rejected a deal that would avoid what could be a bruising doubleheader of public trials for veteran Democrats in a tough election year.

“I have not violated any House rules,” Waters said in a statement released Monday, minutes after the ethics committee posted a report finding “substantial reason to believe” a violation occurred.

“Therefore, I simply will not be forced to admit to something I did not do and instead have chosen to respond to charges made by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct in a public hearing,” the 10-term lawmaker said.

This allegation concerns efforts she made to assist a bank in which her family had substantial interest.  Waters interceded on behalf of OneUnited in order to rescue it from peril.  She arranged a meeting between Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and ostensibly a contingent from the National Bankers Association, but three of the four people who attended the meeting on behalf of the NBA were from OneUnited.  Further, Waters apparently lied about how those people were selected to attend the meeting, claiming that the NBA chose the attendees while an e-mail showed that the OneUnited CEO chose them.

Interestingly, Barney Frank may have to attend as a witness:

The report disclosed that Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told investigators that Waters had approached him for advice on the potential conflict of interest involving her husband.

“She was in a predicament, because Sydney had been involved in the bank,” the report said, characterizing Frank’s interview with investigators. “But OneUnited people were coming to her for help. She knew she should say no, but it bothered her.”

Frank said he urged her to “stay out of it” and arranged to have his staff take over the OneUnited issue from Waters.

Maybe she should have taken his advice.  Clearly, though, she had an option to walk away from the appearance of influence peddling, but chose to get involved instead. That makes the intervention look even worse.

Why not walk away now?  I’m guessing that Waters is engaging in a high-stakes bluff.  The last thing Democrats need in an already-disastrous midterm cycle is a scandal, let alone two of them.  Waters’ seat is even more secure than Rangel’s, so she has almost nothing to lose from forcing a trial anyway, and she’s not likely to get more than a reprimand in any case, but Waters may be betting that Democratic leadership will push the Ethics Committee to back away from both her and Rangel.  The CBC has already starting tossing race cards into the air, hoping for the same outcome.  If anything, though, that would be an even bigger disaster for Democrats, as it would leave the impression that Nancy Pelosi doesn’t plan to do anything about corruption.