Special counsel tab in Waters inquiry may hit $1.3 million

Washington (CNN) — Members of the House Ethics Committee have voted unanimously to spend up to $500,000 extending the contract of a special counsel examining alleged wrongdoing by California Rep. Maxine Waters, according to a committee statement released Thursday.

Prominent Washington attorney Billy Martin was hired to take charge of the roughly three-year investigation last summer, at a cost of up to $800,000, in order to investigate reports of possible improper communication between committee attorneys and lawmakers on the ethics panel. His contract has been extended twice and runs through the end of the current Congress.

“Mr. Martin will continue to work closely with the Committee as it attempts to complete this matter,” the statement said. “We are fully committed to resolving this matter as early in the remainder of this Congress as is possible to do in a thorough, fair and deliberate manner.”

Waters is facing accusations that she improperly sought federal assistance in 2008 for OneUnited Bank, a minority-owned bank in which her husband held a financial interest. The bank received $12 million in bailout funds.

The congresswoman insists that her efforts were part of a broader push to help minority-controlled financial institutions during the financial meltdown.

Waters, however, has accused the Ethics Committee of violating her constitutional right to a speedy and public trial, and railed against the secrecy surrounding the panel’s proceedings. Defenders of the top African-American legislator have raised questions about the role of race in the panel’s investigation.

Waters, an 11-term Los Angeles Democrat, has also questioned the propriety of communications between GOP committee members and staff investigators. Last winter, six members of the panel, including five Republicans, recused themselves from the investigation.

The initial investigation into Waters was led by the nonpartisan Office of Congressional Ethics, which was established in 2008 at the prompting of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California. The office referred the matter to the House Ethics Committee in summer 2009.

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