July 30, 2010 in Nation/World

House panel charges Rangel in ethics probe

Plea failed to stop public reading of 13 counts
William Douglas McClatchy
Associated Press photo

Rep. Charles Rangel, left, walks with his chief of staff, George Henry, as he goes to a vote on the House floor Thursday. He didn’t attend a subcommittee meeting in which 13 ethics charges were made against him.
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – A special House of Representatives subcommittee on Thursday outlined 13 counts of ethics violations against Rep. Charles Rangel, the former chairman of the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. The charges place his political career in jeopardy and could put Democrats on the defensive as November’s elections approach.

The case against the 80-year-old, 20-term Democrat from New York unfolded in a triallike setting of a House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct subcommittee following incorrect reports that Rangel’s lawyers had struck a deal to avoid an embarrassing public reading of the charges against him.

“Mr. Rangel … was given opportunities to negotiate a settlement under the investigation phase,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, a member of the eight-person subcommittee. “We are now in the trial phase.”

In a large hearing room in the bowels of the Capitol Visitors Center, the subcommittee detailed the 13 charges that stem from four matters: that he solicited donations for the Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York, seeking money from foundations and corporations that had interests before the House; that he made “errors and omissions” in failing to disclose $600,000 on his financial disclosure statements; that he used a rent-controlled apartment to house his campaign committees; and that he failed to report and pay taxes on rental income on a beach villa he owns in the Dominican Republic.

Rangel’s legal team, in a written response, denied any wrongdoing in connection with the Rangel Center, and pointed out that lawmakers such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have lent their names to raise “millions of dollars from corporate donors” for facilities named after them.

Rangel’s team said by using the rent-controlled apartment, Rangel was doing the owner a favor by paying maximum rent and helping lower the building’s vacancy rate.

The statement challenged the financial allegations but conceded that “In retrospect, Congressman Rangel did not devote sufficient attention to the preparation of his original financial disclosures.”

Rangel wasn’t present at the half-hour session.

In documents, the subcommittee made it known that Rangel has been less than cooperative, often delaying in producing documents requested by investigators.

“Even when the delay was not significant, (Rangel’s) failure to abide by the deadlines set by the investigative subcommittee was troubling,” the subcommittee wrote.

Still, Democratic and Republican subcommittee members said they took no joy in prosecuting the affable Harlem clubhouse politician.

“He earned the Purple Heart and Bronze Star (in the Korean War) for his bravery. He was a fatherless high school dropout who went from pushing a hand truck in the Garden District of New York City to becoming one of the most powerful – and well-liked – figures on Capitol Hill,” said Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Ala., the ranking Republican on the subcommittee. “But Mr. Rangel’s life story is not why we are here today … .”

The subcommittee’s statement of alleged violations said Rangel improperly sent letters on congressional letterhead to over 100 foundations, requesting gifts of $30 million for the Rangel Center.

“Respondent’s (Rangel’s) staff worked with CCNY on an ongoing basis, assisting with earmarks and meetings between the Respondent’s and potential donors,” according to the committee’s findings. “The work was done on House property, using official resources such as staff time, official House phones and e-mail accounts, and other office equipment and supplies.”

On financial disclosures, the subcommittee said that Rangel didn’t report income from property he owns at the Punta Cana Yacht Club in the Dominican Republic from 1998 to 2000 and for 2006 and 2007.

Ironically, in a letter to the yacht club in 1993 seeking information about his unit, Rangel wrote: “As I mentioned to you, the House Ethics Committee requires the disclosures by members of Congress of any assets and unearned income and while I enjoy a good relationship with the Committee’s Chairman it certainly would be politically embarrassing if I were unable to provide an accurate accounting of my holdings.”

GOP officials have continued to use Rangel to hammer away at Democrats by reminding voters of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington political corruption.

Regarding Rangel, Pelosi, D-Calif., said: “The chips will have to fall where they may politically.”

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