House panel rejects Rangel's request to delay corruption trial

Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, saying "50 years of public service is on the line," implored a House ethics panel Monday to postpone his ethics trial until he can get a new lawyer.
By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 15, 2010; 5:53 PM

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) pleaded with a House panel Monday to delay his long-awaited public trial on corruption charges, saying he needed time to find a new lawyer, but his request was rejected and the session went ahead without him.

The panel later deemed the charges against Rangel to be "uncontested" and decided to deliberate on them, dispensing with the trial phase of the case.

In the hearing, conducted by an eight-member panel of Rangel's congressional peers, Rangel faced allegations that he broke congressional rules in his personal finances and his fundraising efforts for a New York college. He and his previous legal team parted ways last month.

"I object to the proceeding," Rangel told the House panel. "With all due respect, since I don't have counsel to advise me, I'm going to have to excuse myself from these proceedings."

He said he cannot afford a lawyer at present because his campaign account has been depleted.

The panel later went into a three-hour closed session and emerged to announce a unanimous decision to end the trial phase, moving into deliberations on the 13 counts of Rangel's alleged violations.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who chairs the full House ethics committee, said the panel found that the case presented by committee staff, including 549 exhibits, would be considered "uncontested factual record." She said the eight lawmakers now would deliberate and vote on the 13 counts. "No material fact is in dispute," Lofgren said.

The panel needs to find "clear and convincing evidence" that a violation has occurred, she noted. The next phase of deliberations will occur in private with no time limit. A public declaration will come once the panel members have voted on all 13 counts. Any finding of guilt will be sent to the full ethics committee, which is in charge of administering sanctions against Rangel.

"We submit to you that there are no genuine issues as to any material facts in this case," R. Blake Chisam, chief counsel of the ethics committee, told the lawmakers before their first private huddle. "As a result, the case is ripe for decision," he said.

Earlier, as the subcommittee conducting Monday's hearing considered ending the trial phase in the case, Rangel's office issued a statement from the lawmaker in which he said he would refuse to resign.

"They can do what they will with me because they have the power and I have no real chance of fighting back," Rangel said. "Now, I am going forward -- not backwards -- to do the job I was elected to do. That is to serve my district and to serve my country, as I have tried to do for the past 50 years. In the end, I hope that I would be judged by my entire record that determines that I have been a credit to the House."

As the hearing opened Monday morning, Rangel asked that he be allowed to accept either pro bono legal work or reduced-fee support, but such actions might violate congressional rules forbidding gifts. Abbe Lowell, one of Washington's premier white-collar defense lawyers, attended the hearing and said during the break that he would join Rangel's defense if the panel postponed the hearing to allow Rangel time to raise money to pay Lowell's fees.

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