Ethics Committee Releases Charges Against Waters

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The House ethics committee has released its charges against Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California, who, along with New York Democrat Charles Rangel, faces an ethics trial this fall that surely has Chris Van Hollen popping the Rolaids. In the new print issue of TIME, Jay and I have a story about how corruption, an that helped win House Democrats their majority in 2006, now threatens to send them back to the minority.

Not that Waters is cringing today. She has actually urged the ethics committee to release more details about her case, and that–much to her colleagues’ dismay–that her public trial be held before the November elections. Waters insists that a trial will clear her name (though one also suspects she’s determined to embarrass House ethics cops like Leo Wise).

Here’s how CBS News characterizes the ethics charges against Waters, who is accused of improperly intervening on behalf of a bank to which she had close personal and financial ties:

The first charge against Waters states she violated a House rule that members must “behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.” Waters should have instructed her chief of staff to stop assisting OneUnited once it became clear she should not be involved in helping the bank, but she failed to do so, the charges state.

Her staff’s “continued involvement in assisting OneUnited created an appearance that [Waters] was taking official action for [Waters’] personal benefit, which did not reflect creditably on the House,” the charges state.

Waters was also charged with violating the “spirit” of the House rule that prohibits a member from receiving compensation for exerting improper influence from her position in Congress. Waters’ husband’s investments in OneUnited constituted compensation, according to the charges.

The congresswoman was also charged with violating the Code of Ethics for Government Service.

There’s definitely a bad smell to Waters’ role here. But if the worst the committee is alleging is problems of “appearance” and “spirit” and the honorable image of the House, that’s a few miles short of, say, Duke Cunningham behavior. Not that Republicans are likely to dwell on that distinction.