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Panel lodges ethics charges against Rangel

Some deemed ‘very serious’; stage is set for Sept. trial

Representative Charles Rangel of New York has denied allegations that he violated House rules and federal law. Among the charges was an alleged failure to report more than $600,000 in income on his financial disclosure forms. Representative Charles Rangel of New York has denied allegations that he violated House rules and federal law. Among the charges was an alleged failure to report more than $600,000 in income on his financial disclosure forms. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)
By Paul Kane
Washington Post / July 30, 2010

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WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee formally unveiled charges yesterday against Representative Charles Rangel after efforts to reach a settlement apparently fell short, setting the stage for a potentially historic trial of the 20-term congressman.

In a preliminary hearing on the case, a subcommittee disclosed 13 charges that lawmakers described as “very serious’’ violations of House rules and federal law. Rangel, a New York Democrat, did not appear at the hearing — his presence was not required — but he submitted a written statement.

Rangel, 80, a decorated Korean War veteran who was first elected to Congress from his Harlem district in 1970, faced the choice of either admitting to a series of ethical misdeeds or forcing the preliminary phase of a trial by the ethics panel.

In a statement as the hearing began, Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas, noted that there had been talk of negotiations on a settlement.

“Mr. Rangel . . . was given opportunities to negotiate a settlement under the investigation phase,’’ he said. “We are now in the trial phase.’’ He said Rangel faces “13 very serious allegations’’ relating to his conduct.

“For Mr. Rangel, these proceedings present a fair and public opportunity to be heard before his peers,’’ said McCaul, the top Republican on the subcommittee. If proven, the conduct described in the charges “would violate multiple provisions of House rules and federal statutes,’’ he said. Among them, he said, was failure to report more than $600,000 in income on his financial disclosure forms.

In a 32-page rebuttal, Rangel’s legal team denied the allegations, asserting that he never misused his office.

After hearing from two lawmakers who headed the Ethics Committee’s investigative panel, Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California, adjourned the meeting.

The session set the stage for a committee trial, expected to be held in September. Democrats had hoped to avoid such a public confrontation as November elections approach. It can be avoided only if Rangel admits to substantial violations or resigns.

Upon leaving the House floor, Rangel told reporters that he had no knowledge of a deal, an arrangement that would have required the agreement of GOP lawmakers.

With his 40-year congressional legacy hanging in the balance, lawyers for the former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee negotiated with the nonpartisan lawyers for the committee until late Wednesday and continued the discussions yesterday morning, hoping to reach a settlement.

In any case, Rangel faced an ignominious day. “Sixty years ago I survived a Chinese attack in North Korea, and as a result I haven’t had a bad day since,’’ Rangel told reporters before the hearing. “But today I have to reassess that statement.’’

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, deflected a question on whether the Rangel case would hurt her party in November and stain her legacy after she vowed in 2006 to “drain the swamp’’ of Republican misdeeds.

“Drain the swamp we did, because this was a terrible place, and we have made a tremendous difference, and I take great pride in that,’’ she said. She noted that Democrats had already imposed on Rangel the “very serious penalty’’ of removing him from the Ways and Means Committee chairmanship.

One of the five longest-serving lawmakers in the House, Rangel — who cofounded the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971 — has gone from a beloved figure in his caucus to a political pariah.

The investigative subcommittee looked into allegations, at Rangel’s request after published reports, that he inappropriately lived in rent-controlled apartments in Harlem; did not pay taxes properly on a villa in the Dominican Republic; shielded hundreds of thousands dollars in personal assets by not properly disclosing them on his annual forms; and used his congressional office to raise money for the wing of a New York college named after him.

The 13 counts included those allegations, plus charges that Rangel violated the code of providing faithful government services, House rules on soliciting donations, and franking rules. He was also accused of multiple violations of a ban on receiving gifts.

Specifically, the investigative subcommittee alleged that Rangel broke multiple House rules in his efforts to create and fund the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York, including provisions governing gifts to members and use of official resources for unofficial activities. The inquiry alleged that Rangel frequently solicited donations from lobbyists and companies with interests before the Ways and Means Committee.