By Larry Margasak
WASHINGTON — A second House Democrat, Rep. Maxine Waters of California, could face an ethics trial this fall, further complicating the election outlook for the party as it battles to retain its majority.
People familiar with the investigation who were not authorized to be quoted about charges before they are made public, say the allegations could be announced next week. The House ethics committee declined Friday to make any public statement on the matter.
Waters, 71, has been under investigation for a possible conflict of interest involving a bank that was seeking federal aid. Her husband owned stock in the bank and had served on its board.
New York Democrat Rep. Charles Rangel also faces an ethics trial this fall on charges that include failure to disclose assets and income, nonpayment of taxes and doing legislative favors for donors to a college center named after him.
Both Waters and Rangel are prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the trials would be an embarrassment for the group. Dual ethics trials would also be a major political liability for Democrats, forcing them to defend their party’s ethical conduct while trying to hold on to their House majority.
While Rangel is a former chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, Waters is a prominent member of the House Financial Services Committee.
Waters came under scrutiny after former Treasury Department officials said she helped arrange a meeting between regulators and executives at Boston-based OneUnited Bank without mentioning her husband’s financial ties to the institution.
Her husband, Sidney Williams, held at least $250,000 in the bank’s stock and previously had served on its board. Waters’ spokesman has said Williams was no longer on the board when the meeting was arranged.
Waters has said the National Bankers Association, a trade group, requested the meeting. She defended her role in assisting minority-owned banks in the midst of the nation’s financial meltdown and dismissed suggestions she used her influence to steer government aid to the bank.
“I am confident that as the investigation moves forward the panel will discover that there are no facts to support allegations that I have acted improperly,” Waters said in a prior statement.
The committee unanimously voted to establish an investigative subcommittee to gather evidence and determine whether Waters violated standards of conduct.
Waters, like Rangel, could settle her case by arranging a plea bargain with the ethics committee. So far she has decided instead to fight.