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Reports: Waters plans House trial to fight ethics charges

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., chooses to go through an ethics trial rather than accept charges of misuse of office made by a House ethics panel, sources say.
Image: Maxine Waters
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., shown speaking at a Feb. 12, 2009, news conference on Capitol Hill, says she will fight ethics charges through a House trial.Alex Wong / Getty Images file
/ Source: and NBC News

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., plans to go through a House trial to contest charges of misusing her office, NBC News confirmed Friday night.

A House ethics subcommittee says Waters, 71, improperly intervened in 2008 with federal regulators to help get bailout funds for a bank that her husband owned stock in and on whose board he once served, said NBC and other media reports. Waters also once held stock in the bank.

Formal charges are not expected to be announced until next week, according to several congressional officials who spoke to The New York Times on condition of anonymity because the proceedings remained confidential. Details of the specific accusations of wrongdoing were not available Friday evening, the Times said.

Politico suggested the panel's charging document was delayed because Waters said she would go through with the trial instead of accepting and settling the panel's charges.

The House began its six-week summer recess Friday.

Modern-day precedent
The expected trial, coming just after the start of a similar proceeding on Thursday for Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., would be a modern-day precedent for the House, congressional officials told the Times.

At no time in at least the last two decades have two sitting House members faced a public hearing detailing allegations against them, the Times said.

Waters and Rangel are longstanding members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Waters would not comment publicly Friday night but has denied any wrongdoing. "I am confident that as the investigation moves forward the panel will discover that there are no facts to support allegations that I have acted improperly," Waters said in a prior statement.

She has been under investigation by the House ethics panel since last fall.

The Times and The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that Waters called Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. in 2008, as the economy was in a free fall, to ask him to host a special meeting with executives from black-owned banks.

As a Financial Services Committee member, Waters often called Paulson. He agreed to arrange the requested meeting, the Times reported last year.

$250,000 in stock
Paulson did not know at the time that Waters’ husband, Sidney Williams, owned stock at least $250,000 worth of stock in and had served on the board of Boston-based OneUnited, whose chief executive turned the Treasury headquarters meeting into a special appeal for bailout assistance, the Times said.

OneUnited also had branches in Miami and Los Angeles. Waters' district includes part of Los Angeles.

The executive from OneUnited, one of the nation’s largest black-owned banks, asked for $50 million in federal aid, the Times reported.

OneUnited got $12.1 million in TARP money soon after a second meeting, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Waters has said she called Paulson on behalf of the National Bankers Association, a Washington-based organization of minority-owned banks, to help minority-owned banks get their fair share from the government.

Its incoming chairman, Robert Cooper, was a OneUnited executive.

After articles about the meeting appeared in the Times and the Journal, the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent watchdog agency, began an inquiry, the Times said. The office referred the matter to the ethics committee.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have complained that the OCE has unfairly and disproportionately targeted them, and many have signed onto a legislative effort to de-fang the office, Politico reported.