Waters for Elephants
Why couldn't the Democratic Congress conduct an ethics trial for Rep. Maxine Waters?
According to a transcript of a Sept. 23 meeting with the committee members and the staff, it was Lofgren who decided that there would be no trial before the election. During a discussion about timing, Bonner, the highest-ranking Republican on the committee, said somewhat prophetically: "And if, God forbid, this thing goes into the 112th Congress, I just think we are all stained for life in terms of our inability to get this thing done." Lofgren replied: "I think it's clear that we are not going to have this hearing before the election." Later, Bonner said again, "I'm asking you for reconsideration of the statement that we cannot do this." Another committee member, Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D., N.C., said: "It's impossible." Lofgren seconded that: "It's impossible." Bonner replied: "Well, but is it impossible to ever do it?" Good question!
One likely consideration for Lofgren was that the ethics committee was already preparing to put another prominent African-American politician, Rep. Charles Rangel, D., N.Y., on trial. (He received a censure in early December.) The transcript suggests that Lofgren was nervous Waters might play the race card. "She [Waters] thinks this is a civil rights issue," Lofgren said. "She came up and said, 'Do you think this is a civil rights issue?' And I said, 'No, I don't.'" But, Lofgren continued, "That's why I think it is so, so important that when we are doing this that we have dotted every 'i,' we have crossed every 't.' There will never be any, any question that what we are doing is in the regular order, that it has been done dispassionately without any bias or unfairness at all. That is just essential."
On Dec. 9, Waters threatened to bring to the House floor a resolution demanding an investigation as to why Kim and Sovereign were suspended if the ethics committee won't provide a public explanation. That's hard to argue with. If there's a good reason, we deserve to know what it is. If there isn't, the prosecutors deserve to have their names cleared. But the same argument applies to Waters herself. Instead of burying the evidence of its own dysfunction, Congress should stop dithering and hold a trial, so that Waters too has the opportunity to clear her name—and more importantly, so that taxpayers can find out what she did or didn't do on behalf of OneUnited. Funny thing, though: In that Dec. 9 floor speech, Waters didn't say that should happen. Draw your own conclusions.
Bethany McLean is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and the co-author of All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis.
Bethany McLean writes a weekly business column for Slate and is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair. She is the author (with Joe Nocera) of All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis and (with Peter Elkind) "The Smartest Guys In The Room."