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Earl Ofari Hutchinson

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Drop the Ethics Case Against Waters

Posted: 07/19/11 12:16 PM ET

The revelation that two former House Ethics Committee staffers secretly leaked materials to Republicans on the Committee and possibly outside the Committee to hammer California Congresswoman Maxine Waters and New York Congressman Charles Rangel is a near textbook example of how politics doesn't just taint congressional ethics cases, but makes them a bitter joke. The two former top staffers leak of the confidential documents to the Republicans on the panel blatantly violated the standard of confidentiality that's the cornerstone of any legal proceeding. In a criminal case the taint would have resulted in an instant dismissal of the charges against the accused. But this isn't a criminal case, and Congress is not a court of law, but a perennial nest of political infighting, backbiting, one-upmanship and cut throat intrigue between and among Democrats and Republicans. Waters was the perfect fall woman for their political intriguing.

Waters was accused nearly two years ago of influence peddling in an alleged scheme to get millions in TARP bailout money for a bank in which her husband had stock. The House Ethics Committee, then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Congressional Black Caucus, and in fact all House Democrats reported and hashed over the allegations against her at the time and found no smoking gun proof that Waters did anything wrong. But that didn't stop Ethics Committee members from blaring the charges to the press and public that Waters was a graft-ridden, conniving Democratic politician that deserved to have the ethics book thrown at her.

It was no accident that Waters was plopped on the political hot seat three months before the 2010 mid-term elections. House Democrats were scared stiff that the GOP would erase their majority. What better way for them to prove that they could police their own, and make good on Pelosi's oft quoted vow to cleanse the swamp in Congress than to make sacrificial lambs out of a handful of wayward Democrats. The choice of Waters had little to do with the actual charges and their alleged transgressions, or even whether they had merit or not. It was grimy politics, pure and simple.

Waters was not merely a rank and file Democrat. She is one of the highest profile, nationally known Democrats, and an African-American. This gave even greater veneer of credence to Pelosi and ranking Democrats contention that they will go after any Democrats, no matter their party rank and stature, that cross the ethics line. The ploy didn't work. The GOP still turned the November 2010 mid-term elections into a Democratic rout. That meant near total domination of committee chairs, and they determine what gets voted up or down, and when it comes alleged ethics violations who gets investigated and who gets a pass. Partisan politics again can't be separated from the political mix. With Waters, the damage was done. She was firmly imprinted in the media and public mind as the poster politician for congressional corruption.

The revelations of the improper leaks of the Waters ethics probe documents by the former committee staffers to Republicans was no surprise. This probably happens more often than not when partisan party committee members or staffers decide to take political license to go after a perceived vulnerable member of the opposing party. It was just as predictable that when the revelations of misconduct by the former staffers first surfaced back in March that Ethics Committee chair Alabama Republican Jo Bonner moved quickly to put out the fire. He claimed that the committee members had acted with the "the highest ethical standards." This was beyond laughable. The reputation of Waters had been thoroughly dragged through the public and media mud by then and there was little sign of a public pushback by House Democrats against the committee probe.

The Democrats inaction on this was no surprise given their timid, club footed response to GOP initiatives that have kept them rocked back on their heels since November. The revelation of the leaks, though, are as close to iron clad proof that the Democrats will ever get of wrong doing by former Ethics Committee staffers. They had a clear political agenda and that was to discredit Waters, and further bludgeon the Democrats into political submission.

There have been calls for a special prosecutor to look into the leaks. But that would drag out the process against Waters even longer. The non-case against Waters has meandered off and on for far too long for anyone to take the probe or for that matter the ethics committee that's supposedly probing her seriously. The Democrats response should be quick and decisive to the Ethics Committee muddle. The response should be too loudly demand that the charges against Waters be dropped. Anything less reaffirms the terrible message that an Ethics Committee that is sworn to police wayward House members is nothing more than a shill and a sham that bends, twists, and mangles its own procedures for cheap partisan gain.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com
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Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/earlhutchinson