Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) held a long press conference in D.C. today, giving what amounted to a lengthy defense several weeks before the House ethics committee will be able to try her on three alleged violations.
Waters — accused of improperly helping a bank, OneUnited, that her husband held stock in — has maintained that she broke no House rules.
At today’s press conference, Waters again explained her version of events: she set up a meeting between the National Bankers Association, a minority- and women-owned bank group, and Treasury officials in order to help minority-owned banks.
It was not, she said, a meeting between Treasury officials and OneUnited only. The ethics committee maintains that only OneUnited executives attended the meeting; Waters says one of the executives was there in his capacity as an NBA officer.
Her defense had echoes of the one staged earlier this week by her colleague Charlie Rangel, who spoke in his own defense for half an hour on the floor in the face of his 13 charges.
But at her press conference today, Waters seemed visibly frustrated by reports that have associated her ethics woes with those of Rangel, the current poster child for Congressional ethics violations. Waters said she was also unwilling to discuss the view of some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, of which she is a member, that suggests that race has been a factor in the high-profile ethics investigations into Rangel and Waters.
“I will ask you to keep your questions to the SAV and my experiences with the ethics investigation and process,” she told reporters at the end of her prepared remarks. “I will not be entertaining questions about the supposed issue of race in this matter, or recent media reports that have nothing to do with my case.”
“I don’t think I was ‘setup’ or used in anyway,” she said later. “I just think this is the way things unfolded.”
Waters did have a lot of criticism for the ethics committee, but seemed determined to keep her frustrations aimed at the way the process works, rather than the motivations of any key committee member. She said that the timing of the investigation means that she could be under a cloud of suspicion through the elections without getting a chance to have her say in an ethics trial. (Her chief of staff told reporters after the event that Waters’ team expects Rangel’s hearing will come first, meaning they could be waiting for months before they get a chance to have their day before the committee.)
“I think it should be improved,” Waters said when asked about the process. “I’m not opposed to the ethics process or any ethics process. But I think there must be due process.”
After speaking, she turned the floor over to Mikael Moore, her chief of staff and grandson, who happens to be in the center of the ethics charges. According to the ethics committee, Moore was the one who stayed in contact with OneUnited, even after Waters said she would remove herself from the bank’s efforts to secure money during the financial crisis.
Moore conducted a length PowerPoint presentation, featuring emails, letters and other documents from OneUnited, the NBA and Waters’ office.
It was a full-on defense, made weeks before the ethics committee will hear Waters’ case. And that was the point: Waters railed against the committee for the delay, for releasing the charges right before a six-week recess and for saying they don’t have the manpower to conduct trials for both her and Rangel before the November election.