Ethics trials for two prominent House Democrats were set Thursday for after the midterm elections, depriving Republicans of headlines that could become campaign ads.
An angry Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the House ethics committee chairwoman, unilaterally announced the mid-to-late November proceedings for Charles Rangel of New York and Maxine Waters of California.
Lofgren, D-Calif., in a written statement, said the five Republicans on the 10-member committee blindsided her last week - when they publicly requested pre-election trials. Republicans made the request while Lofgren was flying from California to Washington.
The disagreement has for the moment seriously damaged efforts to run the ethics committee without the partisan rancor evident in most House proceedings.
The trials will determine whether Rangel and Waters violated standards of conduct. Rangel is a senior member and former chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, while Waters has a senior position on the Financial Services Committee.
The trials, officially called adjudicatory hearings, will begin Nov. 15 for Rangel and Nov. 29 for Waters. Rangel is accused of financial and fundraising improprieties and Waters is charged with improperly helping a bank where her husband has an investment.
Waters said in a statement, "I will defend myself vigorously because I have not violated any House rules, and I will not allow anyone to suggest my life's work has been motivated by anything other than the public interest. The facts and the evidence are on my side: No benefit, no improper action, no failure to disclose, no one influenced: no case."
Rangel had no immediate comment.
While Rangel and Waters had requested pre-election proceedings, Lofgren said in a written statement that Republicans went public without her approval, despite numerous bipartisan meetings to reach a consensus. She called the Republican unilateral statement unprecedented.
The ethics committee attorneys must demonstrate to eight committee members - sitting as judges - that there is clear and convincing evidence of ethical violations.
If violations are proven, the ethics committee would conduct a hearing on punishment. The committee could issue a report criticizing the member's conduct or recommend greater punishment to the full House - including a vote to censure a lawmaker or, in rare cases, expulsion.
Rangel is accused of 13 ethical violations. Allegations include using House stationery and staff to solicit money for a New York college center named after him; soliciting donors with interests before the Ways and Means Committee, leaving the impression the money could influence official actions; and failing to disclose at least $600,000 in assets and income in a series of inaccurate reports to Congress.
Rangel is also accused of using a rent-subsidized New York apartment for a campaign office, when it was designated for residential use, and failing to report to the IRS rental income from a unit in a Dominican Republic resort.
The New York congressman has acknowledged some ethical lapses, including his failure to pay taxes on time and his belated financial disclosures.
Waters is charged with trying to obtain federal financial assistance for the minority-owned OneUnited Bank, where her husband is an investor. She denies any wrongdoing, saying she did nothing more than request that Treasury Department officials meet with an association of minority-owned banks that included OneUnited.
OneUnited eventually received $12 million in federal bailout money, but Waters insisted she had nothing to do with that decision.