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Rep. Maxine Waters Defends Herself As Ethics Panel Victim

In Washington, it's common knowledge that Fridays in August when Congress is in recess are slow news days.

So a lawmaker who decides to stay around town to give a news conference in response to ethics charges is likely to draw much more attention than she would typically receive at another time of the year.

And so it was with Rep. Maxine Waters, the California Democrat, who decided Friday was the perfect day to tell her side of what happened in the OneUnited Bank affair.

Waters was charged by the House ethics panel with violating ethics rules by arranging a meeting in 2008 during the Bush Administration at which Treasury Department officials met with officers of OneUnited, a financial institution whose board her husband had served on and still owned shares in.

The House ethics panel charges that Waters' family benefited since the meeting apparently resulted in the bank getting Troubled Asset Relief Program money and her husband's shares retaining significant value they would have otherwise lost.

Not surprisingly, Waters denied this.

She also made clear early in the news conference that she would limit her answers to media questions on her case and not "recent media reports that have nothing to do with my case pending before the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct."

She did say what those "recent media reports" were. But most reporters likely assumed they included a Washington Post report on Kevin Cohee, the chairman of OneUnited who met with Treasury officials.

The WaPo reported that Cohee has, as a headline writer politely put it, a "checkered record."

A WaPo excerpt:

Weeks before his meeting with Treasury officials in 2008, Cohee was also dealing with the consequences of the arrests at the Santa Monica mansion, according to police and court records obtained by The Washington Post. The first arrest, on April 22, 2007, occurred after a woman who was not his wife fled the mansion and drove to a police station to lodge a complaint of violent sexual assault.

The second arrest, on May 15, 2007, involved 17 police officers and resulted from drugs found during the execution of a search warrant "in regards to a sodomy investigation," according to a police report. When they reached the second floor of the house and asked Cohee to come out of the bedroom with his hands up, the door was instead pushed shut. Police kicked it open and found a woman, as well as cocaine and a black tar-like substance in a desk drawer, the report states. It was later determined to be concentrated cannabis, according to court records.

The story is really quite something and deserves a full read.

Suffice it to say, that's the kind of radioactive tale any member of Congress would do well to try and stay clear of during a news conference. And stay away from it, Waters did.

Instead, as NPR's Andrea Seabrook reported on All Things Considered, Waters portrayed herself as the victim.

ANDREA: Congresswoman Maxine Waters first complaint is with the timing and slow pace of the ethics investigation.

WATERS: It does not provide due process. It prevents my constituents and the American public from getting answers. And it delays me from being able to respond to the charges, spelled out in the SAV.

ANDREA: The SAV is the Statement of Alleged Violations. It's the list of ethics charges against Waters — mainly that she broke House rules starting when she organized a meeting between Treasury Department officials and a representative of a bank in which Waters' husband owns an interest, and later when her staff took steps to help the bank.

Waters says she was not trying to reap some benefit for her husband — but trying to give members of a minority bankers association the same access to government officials that big, commercial banks have.

WATERS: This case is about access.  It's about access for those who are not heard by the decision makers, whether it's having their questions answered or their concerns addressed.

ANDREA: After Waters made this point, her chief of staff, Mikael Moore, who is also her grandson, launched into a lengthy PowerPoint presentation showing emails, snippets of testimony and documents he said back up the congresswoman's case. Moore's slideshow culminated in this argument.

MOORE: All of these charges depend on the receipt of a benefit, and identifiable, and actionable assistance. No benefit, no improper action, no failure to disclose, no one influenced, no case.

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