Published August 13, 2010
Embattled Rep. Maxine Waters on Friday blamed the Bush administration for her ethics problems -- saying she had to intervene with the Treasury Department on behalf of minority-owned banks seeking federal bailout funds -- including one tied to her husband -- because the Treasury Department wouldn't schedule its own appointments.
The California Democrat said in a Capitol Hill news conference -- an event rarely held during a congressional recess -- that she reached out to then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson in late 2008 when his department failed to respond to the National Bank Association's request for a meeting.
"The question at this point should not be why I called Secretary Paulson, but why I had to," she said. "The question at this point should be why a trade association representing over 100 minority banks could not get a meeting at the height of the crisis."
But the House ethics committee, which is investigating Waters for allegedly improperly using her position for personal gain, says in its report of charges that when the meeting was held, the officers of only one bank came -- OneUnited.
That's a problem for Waters since her husband, Sidney Williams, served as a member of OneUnited's board of directors from January 2004 until April 2008, and was a stockholder in the bank.
OneUnited eventually got $12 million of the $50 million in bailout money it requested, enough to keep the bank afloat. The ethics panel says that kept Waters' family stock from becoming worthless, which the committee says shows that she personally benefited by using her office.
Waters said she wasn't concerned about her husband's stocks in the bank, which were worth about $350,000 at the time and which her husband still owns, if only because he can't unload them.
"No one wants to buy them," she said.
Waters said the media need to distinguish between making a call on behalf of one bank and making a call for an entire trade association. She added that even Paulson told the ethics committee that she never approached his office to speak about only one bank.
"When Paulson responded as a witness, he didn't tell anybody I called him and asked for a meeting with OneUnited," she said.
The 10-term representative from Los Angeles, insisted that she hasn't done anything to violate House rules, and she "will not cut a deal."
"I am teetering on a border here. What I am doing here is rare and unprecedented. I won't go behind closed doors," she said.
Waters pushed for a speedy trial, slamming the ethics committee for not setting a date for the hearing.
"Such a delay is unacceptable, considering that the investigation has dragged on for almost one year," she said. "It does not provide due process."
She added that neither her staff nor she "engaged in any improper behavior."
"We did not influence anyone and we did not gain any benefit," she said, reading from a written statement.
Waters, who holds a senior position on the Financial Services Committee, is the second prominent Democrat lawmaker facing ethics charges during a fiery election season. New York Rep. Charles Rangel of New York is facing 13 charges, including failing to disclose assets and income and delayed payment of federal taxes.
Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.