Ethics panel benches two attorneys in Waters probe

While Maxine Waters demands an ethics hearing before the end of this session, the House Ethics Committee seems to have dissolved into chaos.  The panel has indefinitely suspended the lead attorney on the Waters probe, Morgan Kim, as well as one other lawyer working for the panel.  Politico reports that the suspensions stem from “serious problems” and may be contributing to the delay in public hearings, and notes another coincidence as well:

It is unclear if the decision to place Kim and Sovereign on paid leave was related to the Waters’ case or another matter, although they were placed in that status on the same day that Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), the chairwoman and ranking member of the committee, announced the Waters’ trial was delayed. The committee announced that it had new information, including e-mails from Moore, that would have an impact on the Waters’ matter.

The ethics trial was to have begun on Monday, but the ethics panel found more evidence of wrongdoing just a week prior to the start of the hearing.  It’s taken a week to discover that the two attorneys, one of whom led the probe, got suspended at the same time.  That may be coincidental, but it doesn’t make much sense to suspend the lead attorney when new evidence arises — unless that evidence came from another source, perhaps one the lead attorneys missed. In fact, Politico reports that the chief counsel for the committee wanted both fired, not suspended:

Blake Chisam, the chief counsel and staff director for the ethics panel, initially sought to fire Kim and Sovereign on Nov. 19, but was unable to do so.

However, the two attorneys are no longer assigned to any active cases, said the sources.

Curious.  It will be even more curious to see whether Waters’ attorney attempts to make hay out of this development, or tries to avoid it.  The situation may give them some opening to attack the process.  If they ignore it, then it may be that the two attorneys either overlooked or deliberately ignored evidence that hurts Waters’ cause.  Otherwise, it will probably be a long time before anyone knows the circumstances of this roster change.

Update: The Hill underscores my point:

Cindy Morgan Kim, the deputy chief counsel and the lead attorney on the Waters case, and Stacy Sovereign, who supplemented Kim on the case, were placed on administrative leave the same day Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who chairs the panel, and Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), its ranking member, announced an indefinite delay of Waters public trial, which was set to begin Nov. 29.

The departures are a bad harbinger for the ethics panel’s case against Waters and give the 20-term California lawmaker leverage to achieve a reduced penalty if not a dismissal of the case. While the ethics committee does not operate under the same rules of criminal procedure, members and the public have a recent reminder of the prosecutorial misconduct involved in the case against former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

Did the panel suspend Kim and Sovereign for not disclosing evidence to the defense, though, or not pursuing it vigorously enough for the prosecution?  We’ll know by the way Waters’ defense uses this development, or by the extent that they ignore it.

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