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Ethics panel won’t release counsel’s findings

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – The House Ethics Committee refused Friday to make public an outside counsel’s findings in the conflict-of-interest investigation of Rep. Maxine Waters, a senior Democrat on the panel that oversees financial institutions.

Waters, D-Calif., and 68 House colleagues wrote the ethics committee this week, demanding that the outside counsel’s findings be made public.

The committee relied on the counsel’s advice this week in rejecting Waters’ allegations that she was not permitted to fully respond to allegations against her. The committee has charged Waters with violating House rules, by improperly trying to steer federal money to a bank where her husband is a shareholder and once served on the board.

In response to the letter demanding public disclosure, the committee said Friday that the outside counsel, Washington lawyer Billy Martin, did not write a report. Rather, he “provided confidential and thorough advice to the committee, just as congressional staff advise members and House committees on a daily basis….”

The committee added, “There is no justification for releasing the confidential details of staff advice to the committee at this time.”

Waters has denied trying to help OneUnited Bank, where her husband still owns stock, saying she tried to assist an association of minority-owned banks that included OneUnited.

Institutions in the association were in financial trouble because of investments in troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Martin could earn $800,000 in taxpayers’ money for his work. His first job was to investigate the committee’s conduct because of Waters’ allegations of unfairness. He also investigated leaks of investigative materials to the news media and allegations of improper communications between committee investigators and Republican committee members.

Martin concluded that while questionable conduct did occur among some committee staff, none of it affected Waters’ ability to dispute the allegations. The committee concurred.

In an extraordinary development last February, to avoid accusations of a tainted investigation, all five Republicans and the top Democrat on the ethics panel withdrew from the case and replacements were named.

OneUnited eventually received $12 million in bailout money, but federal officials have said Waters was not involved in the decision.

Waters is currently the second-ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee, and is possibly in line for the chairmanship if Democrats regain control of the House.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)