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Political Notebook

Rangel seeks plea agreement to avoid ethics trial

President Obama made his way to the Rose Garden to deliver a statement after a bipartisan meeting yesterday with members of Congress at the White House. President Obama made his way to the Rose Garden to deliver a statement after a bipartisan meeting yesterday with members of Congress at the White House. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
July 28, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Representative Charles Rangel attempted a last-minute plea deal yesterday to head off a House ethics trial that could embarrass him and damage Democrats facing potentially severe election losses.

The talks between Rangel’s lawyer and the House Ethics Committee’s nonpartisan attorneys were confirmed by Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California and ethics chairwoman. She said she is not involved in the talks, adding that the committee’s lawmakers have always accepted the professional staff’s recommendations in previous plea bargains.

Rangel, Democrat of New York and the former Ways and Means Committee chairman, would have to admit to multiple, substantial ethics violations unless ethics lawyers dramatically changed their negotiating stance.

Earlier negotiations broke down when Rangel would admit to only some allegations — not enough to satisfy the Ethics Committee lawyers, according to people familiar with those talks who were not authorized to be quoted by name.

Rangel, a 40-year House veteran who is 80 years old, stepped down from his chairmanship in March when the Ethics Committee found he should have known that corporations financed two trips to Caribbean conferences. While chairman, Rangel was a major force in stimulus bills, health care, trade, and tax legislation. He is tied for fourth in seniority in the House.

If the negotiations are not successful, trial proceedings for the Harlem congressman would begin tomorrow with a public reading of alleged ethics violations that are still confidential.

A subcommittee of four Democrats and four Republicans, led by Lofgren, would then conduct the trial and decide whether the charges are proved by clear and convincing evidence.

Some Democrats have called for Rangel to resign. Others have returned money he raised for them. Many Democrats are worried that they will be targets of negative campaign ads about Rangel if a trial gets underway in September.

An ethics case against former representative Mark Foley of Florida, involving his suggestive e-mails to former pages, coincided with the 2006 campaign and was among the reasons the GOP lost control of the House.

— Associated Press

House supports GE’s backup fighter engine
WASHINGTON — A House subcommittee approved funds yesterday for General Electric Co.’s backup engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, according to a congressional staff aide.

The House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, in passing its version of the fiscal 2011 defense budget, voted 11 to 5 to add $450 million to continue development of the engine. The full Appropriations Committee will consider the measure in September, the aide said.

The House has already voted to keep funding the alternate engine when it authorized military programs for the 2011 budget.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates says a second engine is a wasteful expense. President Obama said after the authorization bill passed May 28 that he would veto the legislation if its final version has the funding.

The Senate Armed Services Committee rejected money for the engine in its version of the authorization bill. The full Senate has not voted on that measure, nor has the Senate begun consideration of its defense appropriations bill.

House and Senate versions of the authorization and appropriations legislation must be reconciled and the measure must be signed by the president before becoming law.

The battle pits supporters of Connecticut-based GE and its partner London-based Rolls-Royce Group PLC, who are clustered in Ohio, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Virginia, where GE has operations, against supporters of Pratt & Whitney in Maine, Connecticut, and Florida, states where Pratt has facilities. Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts and Representative John Tierney of Salem, both Democrats, have been helping to lead the effort to keep funding for the engine, which would be built in part in Lynn, Mass.

Rick Kennedy, GE spokesman, said the GE-Rolls Royce team was “very gratified by this strong vote for a long-term competition’’ on the fighter program.

— Bloomberg News

Scots ‘stonewalling’ over Lockerbie, senator says
WASHINGTON — A senator said yesterday that he was postponing this week’s hearing on the release of the man convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, because of “stonewalling’’ by British and Scottish officials who declined to testify.

“They would prefer to sweep this under the rug,’’ said Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who was to lead tomorrow’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

The committee is looking into whether British-based oil company BP had sought Abdel Baset al-Megrahi’s release to help get a $900 million exploration agreement with Libya. BP acknowledged that it had urged the British government to sign a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, but stressed it didn’t specify his case.

Menendez sought the participation of Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish justice secretary who freed Megrahi; Britain’s justice secretary at the time, Jack Straw; BP chief executive Tony Hayward; Andrew Fraser, the Scottish Prison Service’s medical chief; and Sir Mark Allen, a BP official who Menendez said acted as a liaison between the company and the Libyan and British governments.

“It’s utterly disappointing and, I think, pretty outrageous that none of these key witnesses will cooperate with our request to answer questions before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,’’ the senator said at a news conference. “They have stonewalled.’’

Menendez said the committee will shift its focus to a “longer-term multidimensional inquiry’’ into Megrahi’s release.

Megrahi served eight years of a life sentence for the Dec. 21, 1988, bombing, which killed all 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground. Last August, Scotland released the cancer-stricken man, and he returned to Libya.

— Associated Press