Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) held a press conference Friday to refute charges that she gave political help to a bank with ties to her husband, just days after another House Democrat, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), also defended himself against ethics charges in an unusually public manner.
“What I’m doing now is outside of the box, beyond what’s normally done,” said Waters at the 90-minute press conference, which included an extensive slide-show disputing House Ethics Committee allegations that she helped secure over $12 million in federal bailout funds for OneUnited Bank, a bank in which her husband had a substantial financial stake.
Investigators charge that Waters violated conflict-of-interest rules when she set up a meeting between OneUnited Bank officials and the U.S. Treasury Department, but the congresswoman claims that she had no role in obtaining the funds for the bank.
“Neither my staff nor I engaged in any improper behavior,” said Waters. “And we did not influence anyone and we did not gain any benefit.”
Lawmakers under scrutiny for ethics violations tend to avoid the spotlight and steer clear of making statements that may compromise their case, making Waters’ move highly unusual.
But Waters’ colleague Rep. Rangel – who has been charged with tax evasion, improper use of a rent-stabilized apartment, and quid-pro-quo solicitation of donations by the House Ethics Committee – also mounted a very public defense on the House floor on Aug. 10.
“I am not going away,” Rangel declared, in a rambling 31-minute speech. “If I can’t get my dignity back here, then fire your best shot in getting rid of me through expulsion.”
But despite Waters’ and Rangel’s adamant denials of wrong-doing, some analysts say that their public appeals are a sign of desperation.
“They have two choices, go quietly with dignity…or go with lots of sound and fury, appealing to the court of public opinion,” James Thurber, director of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential studies, told Time.com on Aug. 13. “It is politically risky and shows they are desperate.”
Democrats are said to be concerned over the potential publicity from Waters’ and Rangel’s ethics hearings, which are expected to take place during the midterm election season. The Democratic Party is already facing a difficult battle to hang on to its majority in the House this November, and two public, trial-like hearings may only add to those troubles.
Alana Goodman is NLPC’s Capitol Hill Reporter.