House Democrats face a dilemma with Rangel trial

Chris Cillizza talks Rangel and WikiLeaks on "Top Line."
By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

House Democrats continued to struggle with how to handle the pending ethics trial of Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), returning to the Capitol on Monday as unclear on the matter as when they left last week.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Monday that they had not spoken to Rangel about the matter. Neither indicated any knowledge of how the former Ways and Means Committee chairman plans to handle the potentially explosive ethics trial. It is slated to begin Thursday with a hearing, at which the corruption allegations will be detailed.

Rangel is not required to appear for this session, and it is unclear whether he will.

"People will wait and see how that plays out," Pelosi said. "The committee has made its announcement and [outlined] its timetable, and I think that we just have to wait to see how that plays out.Because none of us, not any of us except those on the committee, has any knowledge of" what the charges are.

Hoyer said: "The process is working as it was intended to do, even for a very powerful member of Congress."

The indecision over how to handle the matter comes as some party strategists are privately hoping that Rangel will reach a settlement or announce his resignation before Thursday, to avoid public scrutiny of a messy trial: It would resume in mid-September, just weeks before the November midterm elections. Aides were bracing to see whether more Democrats in vulnerable districts would call for his resignation, as Rep. Betty Sutton (Ohio) did Friday night.

Freshman Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (Pa.) announced Monday that she will donate $14,000 she received from Rangel to charity. Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.), who is running for the Senate, had announced Friday that he would do the same.

According to Republican estimates, more than $588,000 in Rangel-related donations has been returned or donated to charity since the ethics committee reprimanded him in February for an unrelated probe regarding his acceptance of corporate-financed travel.

The current investigation involves his personal finances, including his living in rent-controlled apartments in Harlem and his belated disclosure of hundreds of thousands of dollars on financial forms.

It also focuses on how he raised money for the wing of a New York college in his honor. An investigative subcommittee announced Thursday that it had found that Rangel broke unnamed House rules, and another committee was set up to conduct what amounts to a trial on the charges.

The National Republican Congressional Committee issued more than 40 news releases criticizing lawmakers who had not returned their Rangel-linked donations, such as Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.), a former Ways and Means aide who has collected more than $80,000 through Rangel. But Republicans have been careful not to call for Rangel's resignation, hopeful that he will fight out the public trial throughout September and place Democrats in an uncomfortable spot.

As the investigation unfolded, from fall 2008 through last spring, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) offered numerous resolutions calling for Rangel, 80, to surrender his chairmanship. Boehner has now gone mum on the issue.

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