You can take it to the bank: Unbowed Maxine says she won’t cut a deal

August 13, 2010

She broke no rules, she has no regrets, and she won’t cut a deal with the U.S. House of Representatives ethics committee. That was the message a defiant Democratic lawmaker Maxine Waters had for the media on Friday.

The 10-term California representative brought her trademark feistiness to a lengthy news conference in the bowels of the U.S. Capitol. Her chief of staff Mikael Moore (who also happens to be her grandson) went through the ethics charges against her, and her defense against them in mind-numbing detail.

BLACKS/BERNANKE“I won’t go behind closed doors. I won’t cut a deal. I will continue to talk about the fact that I have not violated anything,” Waters declared at the news conference in the Capitol Visitors’ Center, which is below ground. She flayed the ethics committee for having not yet set a hearing in her case.

The House ethics panel accused Waters of three counts of breaking House rules earlier this month for allegedly assisting a bank in which her husband was a stockholder get help from the federal government.

The case comes on the heels of 13 charges by the ethics panel against Representative Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, adding to the woes of President Obama’s party in Congress as it struggles to maintain its majority in mid-term elections this fall.

The charges against Waters center on whether she helped OneUnited Bank get a meeting with U.S. Treasury officials at the onset of the financial crisis in the autumn of 2008. The bank, in which her husband held stock, later received $12 million in federal bailout funds.

But Waters said on Friday that she had called then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to request that officials meet with the National Bankers Association, which consists of 103 minority banks, not to ask for a meeting with any particular bank. The OneUnited Bank official who later went to the meeting, Robert Cooper, also served at the time as chairman-elect of the association. Neither Paulson nor Waters participated in the meeting.

Waters added that at the time she placed the call to Paulson, the bank bailout program that later became known as TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) did not yet exist.

The congresswoman said she had spent decades “opening doors and providing access for small, minority, and women businesses … This is what I do.” If she had it to do again, “I would probably do the same thing.”

When a reporter asked if she did not think there was at least an appearance of a conflict of interest, Waters shot back: “No, I don’t, and you can’t define appearance.”

Asked if her husband still had shares in the bank, she said, “yes he does.” They had fallen in value and “nobody wants to buy them.”

Waters, who turns 72 years old on Sunday, said she called the press conference because “if you are going to write about the story, you need to know what you are writing about.” But her staff did not make it easy for some reporters, saying the event was by invitation only, even as parts of it were shown live on CNN.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Waters talks with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in September 2009)

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