Rep. Charles Rangel broke ethics rules, House panel finds

A House investigative committee on Thursday charged New York Rep. Charles Rangel with multiple ethics violations, dealing a serious blow to the former Ways and Means chairman and complicating Democrats' election-year outlook. (July 22)
By Carol D. Leonnig and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 23, 2010

A House ethics subcommittee announced Thursday that it found that Rep. Charles B. Rangel violated congressional ethics rules and that it will prepare for a trial, probably beginning in September. The panel is expected to make the details of his alleged violations public next Thursday.

Rangel (D-N.Y.) has been under the House ethics committee's microscope since early 2008 after it was reported that he may have used his House position to benefit his financial interests. Two of the most serious inquiries have focused on Rangel's failure to declare $239,000 to $831,000 in assets on his disclosure forms, and on his effort to raise money for a private center named after him at City College of New York using his congressional letterhead.

In March, Rangel reluctantly stepped down as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee -- a week after the ethics panel ruled in a separate case that he had broken congressional gift rules by accepting trips to conferences in the Caribbean that were financed by corporate interests. The panel said that, at a minimum, Rangel's staff knew about the corporate backing for the 2007 and 2008 trips -- and that the congressman was therefore responsible.

(Jonathan Capehart: Charlie Rangel, ethics violator)

Rangel, 80, said he welcomed the opportunity to respond to the allegations. "At long last, sunshine has pierced through this cloud that has been over my head for more than two years," he said when asked about the panel's decision.

Sources familiar with the case said that Rangel could have avoided this showdown by accepting the subcommittee's findings. He was briefed on the allegations against him -- as required by House rules -- in recent weeks, and he rejected them.

It has been eight years since the House last opened such proceedings against a member. That happened when Jim Traficant (D-Ohio) rejected the ethics committee's findings that he violated rules. He was later expelled by his peers. Before that, the last member expelled was Michael Myers (D-Pa.), removed by his colleagues in 1980 as a result of the Abscam scandal.

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The committee announcement came shortly after 4 p.m. Thursday as the House finished its votes for the week. About 3 p.m., Rangel and the ethics committee's chairman, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), huddled together in a lengthy conversation on the Republican side of the House floor, far away from their Democratic colleagues, according to a Republican who observed the conversation.

A judge-like panel will meet next Thursday and read the charges. That will happen just as the House is about to leave Washington for a 6 1/2 -week recess. The full trial is not likely to begin until the week of Sept. 13 -- right before Rangel faces what could be a difficult Sept. 14 primary challenge from New York State Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV. Powell is the son of the late congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-N.Y.), who faced his own ethics problems and was bested in 1970 by Rangel in a Democratic primary.

Rangel has several choices. He can resign, accept the charges and try to stay on, or defend himself. Pressure could build from Democratic members for him to resign rather than endure a public trial that would be humiliating for him and his party so soon before the November midterm elections.

Rangel has spent more than $2 million from his campaign treasury on his legal team, including more than $160,000 this spring, according to federal election reports.

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