Two lawyers from the House ethics committee, including the chief prosecutor working on the case against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), were suspended last month on the same day the panel announced an indefinite delay in Waters’ public trial.
Cindy Morgan Kim and Stacy Sovereign were placed on administrative leave on Nov. 19 — the same day that the panel announced an indefinite delay of Waters trial. The suspensions were first reported by Politico.
A statement at the time from Chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) said the delay was “due to materials discovered that may have an effect on the investigative subcommittee’s transmittal to the Committee.” The new materials were reportedly e-mails from Mikael Moore, Waters’ grandson and chief of staff.
Kim, the deputy chief counsel and the lead attorney on the Waters case, is a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Florida. She’s been with the ethics committee since 2006, according to Legistorm. Sovereign is a former associate general counsel for the Marine Spill Response Corp. Records show she joined the committee in December 2009.
One source familiar with the Waters investigation told TPM there had been “acrimony” between Kim and House Ethics Committee staff director Blake Chisam for some time now. The source said Kim and Chisam had clashed over what the Waters case was about and interpretations of House ethics rules. Chisam initially tried to fire Kim and Sovereign, Politico reported.
Kim, Sovereign and Chisam did not respond to requests for comment. Moore said a statement from Waters was forthcoming.
If it turns out one of the lawyers violated the DC Code of Professional Responsibility, they could face sanctions, Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) told TPM.
“Of course, that’s a big ‘if’ as, right now, we have no idea what happened,” Sloan said.
The committee is able to hire whoever it wants, but has in the past tried to hire lawyers with a background in criminal law, according to Sloan.
“Investigative experience would be very helpful,” Sloan said. “That said, I am confident some of the folks on the committee are more political than anything else.”
The House ethics committee first announced three charges against Waters back in July. Waters was accused of improperly helping a bank that her husband held stock in, but has maintained she broke no House ethics rules.
Waters delivered a scathing critique of the committee’s handling of the matter on Monday, the day her trial had been set to begin.
Additional reporting by Rachel Slajda.