House to Try Top Democrat
House investigators have laid out a series of ethics accusations against Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel, the once-powerful tax-writer who is one of the most senior members of Congress, presenting his party with a new complication in advance of the fall elections.
Mr. Rangel, of New York, will have the opportunity to defend himself at a public trial before the House ethics committee beginning next week, according to a statement Thursday from the panel, formally known as the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.
If found guilty, Mr. Rangel could be expelled from office or face a lesser sanction such as admonishment. With nearly 40 years of service in the House, the 80-year-old lawmaker has been in Congress longer than some of its younger members have been alive.
Mr. Rangel said Thursday in a statement that “at long last, sunshine will pierce the cloud of serious allegations that have been raised against me in the media” over the past two years. “I will be glad to respond to the allegations at such time as the ethics committee makes them public.”
The committee won’t detail the specific charges against Mr. Rangel until next week.
A person familiar with the case said the investigators found evidence of violations of ethics rules involving Mr. Rangel’s alleged use of a rent-stabilized apartment in Manhattan as a campaign office. Investigators also found violations involving his use of congressional stationery in seeking support for a City College of New York center named after Mr. Rangel, this person said.
Committee investigators also allege that Mr. Rangel’s financial-disclosure statements didn’t accurately reflect his ownership of a vacation villa in the Dominican Republic, the person familiar with the case added.
A broader set of questions about the congressman’s activities had surfaced in the past two years, and it wasn’t clear what determination committee investigators had made about them. Those included how Mr. Rangel financed the purchase of the Dominican Republic property. One of his attorneys has said he paid no mortgage interest for more than a decade.
A special investigative panel set up by the ethics committee spent months looking into allegations. Thursday’s action by the investigators is similar to an indictment.
“The investigative subcommittee has said that there was wrongdoing. Now there will be public hearings” to determine if the charges can be proven, said Robert Walker, former staff director of the ethics committee.
For that process, the two Democrats and two Republicans on the investigative subcommittee will present evidence to eight people on the full House ethics committee, also equally divided between the two parties.
Mr. Rangel stepped down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee in March, a week after the ethics committee found him guilty of violating House rules by failing to properly disclose a trip to the Caribbean underwritten by corporations. He later reimbursed the costs of the trip using funds from his campaign account.
Voters in Mr. Rangel’s Harlem district have already re-elected him once since some of the ethics questions surfaced. A public trial over the allegations, however, could pose problems for his fall campaign.
At the same time, on the national political stage, a trial might allow Democrats to move Mr. Rangel’s problems out of public view well before the fall election. Democrats might also use the case to argue that Congress is effectively policing its problems. Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said the “action today would indicate that the independent, bipartisan ethics committee process is moving forward.”
Ms. Pelosi, when campaigning in 2006, had promised to “drain the swamp” if she became speaker. Republicans argued that Mr. Rangel’s alleged violations show she has failed in that promise.
“Instead of presiding over ‘the most honest, most open, and most ethical’ Congress in history, Washington Democrats have presided over a string of bailouts, job-killing government takeovers, and other backroom deals,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) said in a statement.
Former Rep. Tom Davis, who once led the GOP’s House campaign committee, said Republicans will “try to add this to the narrative in terms of a corrupt Congress.” On Thursday, the Republicans’ national Senate campaign committee cited the investigators’ action in noting that it has called on Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D., Ind.), a Senate candidate, to return campaign cash from Mr. Rangel.
Mr. Rangel’s re-election chances hinge largely on the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, since his district is so heavily Democratic.
His challengers include state Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, son of the man Mr. Rangel unseated in 1970. Also seeking the seat is Vince Morgan, a former aide to Mr. Rangel, as well as Jonathan Tasini, an antiwar activist, and Joyce Johnson, an Obama supporter.
Mr. Tasini on Thursday called on Mr. Rangel to drop his re-election bid. Mr. Rangel has suggested the ethics inquiry may help him with voters who think he is being unfairly criticized.
Several organizations called on Mr. Rangel to step aside rather than stand trial. “Rep. Rangel has toughed it out as long as he could, the time clearly has come for him to resign,” said Melanie Sloan, the executive director of the nonpartisan Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington.
The last lawmaker to stand public trial by the House ethics committee was Rep. Jim Traficant (D., Ohio), who was expelled from Congress in 2002.
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