The Notebook- House Ethics Committee Edition

Fans of the Maxine Waters ethics case (you know who you are) may recall that one of the controversies between Blake Chisam, the former Staff Director and Chief Counsel of the Ethics Committee, and the two senior counsel leading the Waters investigation (Morgan Kim and Stacy Sovereign), involved the binders that were handed out to committee members at a November 18, 2010 meeting. According to Chisam’s late 2010 memorandum to Chairman Lofgren, providing the reasons for terminating Kim and Sovereign:

            At that meeting, white binders were handed out to all the Members of the adjudicatory subcommittee, as well as the Chair’s and Ranking Member’s designated counsels. They were being passed out from a box. The Ranking Member’s counsel was helping to hand the binders out. Since the Waters staff [Kim and Sovereign] served as advocates, they could not be present at the ASC [Adjudicatory Subcommittee] discussion absent an invitation for participation by respondent. The binders were prepared by the Waters staff for the meeting. There were copies of the binder that were flagged, highlighted and contained handwritten notes and explanations when they came out of the box. The marked up copies were provided to Republican Members. Democratic Members did not receive annotated binders.

 So there you have it. Selective highlighting. Discriminatory annotation. Ex parte flagging. Such serious charges require a full investigation, preferably conducted by an outside lawyer whose hourly fee exceeds the average American’s mortgage payment.

Fortunately, we now have the report of Outside Counsel Billy Martin, who has cracked the case of the great notebook caper wide open. His report states (page 21):

During the course of the Outside Counsel’s review, Outside Counsel located  and reviewed what Outside Counsel believes are those very notebooks.

Eureka! (I hear you cry). Outside Counsel has located the very notebooks. The instruments of the crime. The murder weapon itself, so to speak. Surely the perpetrators of this dastardly deed will no longer go unpunished. Read on:

Outside Counsel determined that only one tab and minimal highlighting was placed on the notebooks in question. In addition, the designee to the Ranking Member testified that she had highlighted the binders to assist the Republican Members to more easily locate the documents that were going to be discussed at the meeting. As this was done by the designee to the Ranking Member, who was acting within the scope of her services and authority, and not by a staff member to assist one party, there is nothing noteworthy about the highlighted binders.

Nothing “noteworthy,” get it? Outside Counsel is Hercule Poirot and Jimmy Kimmel rolled into one. Sadly, however, our mystery seems to have gone from Murder on the Orient Express to Murder by Death.

Perhaps even sadder is the fact that absolutely nothing turned on the resolution of this controversy. Even if Kim and Sovereign had been responsible for marking up the binders, and even if the marking had been for a more nefarious purpose than helping the Republican Members more easily locate the relevant documents, it would not have changed the handling of the Waters case going forward. Martin would still have recommended the same action, namely the recusal of those committee members involved in the Waters matter in the prior Congress.

Gee, if only someone could have pointed that out in advance.