Democrat Rangel charged with 13 ethics violations

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) acknowledges that he has made mistakes but insists that he is not corrupt. The House voted Thursday to censure the congressman.
By Paul Kane and Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 30, 2010

The House ethics committee charged Rep. Charles B. Rangel with 13 separate violations of House rules Thursday, saying his various financial dealings broke the "public trust." The long-awaited release of the charges against Rangel at an afternoon hearing was the first formal step toward a possible ethics trial in mid-September.

After eleventh-hour settlement talks broke down, the committee announced that it had found "substantial reason to believe" that the New York Democrat had violated House rules or federal laws by soliciting donations from people with business before his committee to fund a center named in his honor at City College of New York, not paying taxes on a Caribbean home, improperly using a rent-stabilized apartment in New York as a campaign office, and not properly disclosing more than $600,000 in income and assets.

"These actions, if proven, would demonstrate that Mr. Rangel violated multiple provisions of the House rules and federal statutes. . . . We can never forget that public office is a public trust," said Rep. Michael McCaul (Tex.), a former federal corruption prosecutor and the top Republican on the ethics subcommittee hearing Rangel's case.

Rangel did not appear at the hearing, but his attorneys issued a 32-page rebuttal. Rangel denied that donors for the college wing were targeted based on their business before his committee and said he had received no personal benefit from the college.

He also said he "acted promptly to correct unintentional mistakes" in filing financial disclosure forms. He said he paid the "maximum rent" for the Harlem apartment and "received no special benefits" for the unit.

Rangel's attorneys, led by Leslie B. Kiernan, wrote to the committee: "The undisputed evidence in the record -- assembled by the investigative subcommittee over its nearly two-year investigation -- is that Congressman Rangel did not dispense any political favors, that he did not intentionally violate any law, rule or regulation, and that he did not misuse his public office for private gain."

Rangel must decide how aggressively to continue with settlement talks or defend himself in a full trial, which Democratic leaders have been hoping to avoid so close to the November midterm elections.

So far, only a few fellow Democrats have called on Rangel to resign, but party strategists fear more could come now that the allegations have been detailed.

Rangel was compelled to give up the chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in March after being reprimanded by the ethics committee in a separate probe over accepting corporate-financed travel to the Caribbean.

The unveiling of the latest allegations capped a frantic final 48 hours of negotiations between Rangel's attorneys and the ethics committee's nonpartisan lawyers, who continued talking into Thursday morning. His team appeared to be on the brink of a deal, in which Rangel would admit to at least some wrongdoing and the two sides would negotiate a punishment, avoiding the possible spectacle and humiliation of a public trial.

But committee Republicans blamed Rangel's team when no such deal was reached, saying he and his attorneys had declined previous settlement entreaties and used delay tactics designed to stretch out the process.

After Thursday's hearing, members of the full ethics committee convened another huddle in its meeting room in the Capitol basement, sparking talk of renewed plea negotiations. Rangel's team hoped to reach a settlement, but the committee announced there would be no further comment and departed shortly before 9 p.m.

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