Charles Rangel speaks to the media as he returns to his office from a vote… (Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images )
Reporting from Washington —
A House panel on Thursday accused New York Rep. Charles B. Rangel of 13 ethics violations, placing his storied 40-year political career in jeopardy and guaranteeing Democrats an election-year headache.
The allegations were unveiled in a meeting that set the stage for a rare, full-blown trial that could take place as soon as September. Rangel, a Democrat from Harlem, did not attend the meeting and has maintained he will be exonerated.
Until the moment House Ethics Committee members met Thursday afternoon, talk filtered through congressional corridors that Rangel's attorneys had struck an agreement to avoid the hearing.
But Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee that will try Rangel, suggested that the time for an agreement had passed, saying Rangel had been given an "opportunity to negotiate a settlement in the investigation phase."
"The American people need to hear the truth," McCaul said, adding that the "very credibility" of the House was at stake.
Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), who headed the investigation of Rangel, said there was "substantial reason" to believe the former Ways and Means Committee chairman violated ethics rules.
A settlement still could be reached, but it would require the approval of at least one Republican on the full House Ethics Committee, which could be difficult to secure given the toxic partisan atmosphere on Capitol Hill.
If the bipartisan panel finds Rangel guilty, he could face a range of punishments that include censure and expulsion from the House.
The committee, formally known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, conducted a two-year investigation of Rangel and released a trove of documents detailing his alleged violations. The documents revealed a wider range of accusations than what the committee was known to be considering.
They stem from Rangel's ownership of four rent-controlled apartments in New York City, including one he used as a campaign office; his use of his congressional office for solicitation of corporate contributions for a public affairs school to be established in his name at the City College of New York; his failure to report income from rental properties and investments on his financial disclosure forms; and his failure to report and pay taxes on a Caribbean rental property, according to the documents.
Rangel helped preserve a tax break to benefit at least one company that had pledged to support his public affairs school, the documents alleged.
Rangel, 80, a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, has represented his district since 1971. Many congressional observers believed that Rangel's situation would not reach such a crucial and embarrassing phase and that he would accept some form of House sanction rather than endure a public trial.
But those close to the congressman, a Korean War veteran who nearly died on the battlefield, say he believes he did nothing wrong. Rangel went about his business as normal Thursday, casting votes on the House floor and chatting with colleagues even as reporters and cameras trailed him.
Some of those colleagues, however, are less than pleased. A handful of Democrats have called for Rangel's resignation.
"Too many politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, have fallen victim to the idea that they are different than regular folks — and nothing could be further from the truth," Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) said. "If the serious charges against him are accurate, he needs to resign."
Rangel stepped down this year as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax policy, as the furor over the ethics inquiry intensified. If he were to resign his office, he would no longer fall under the Ethics Committee's jurisdiction.
The proceedings against Rangel come at a perilous time for House Democrats, who are fearful of losing their majority in the November election. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) came to power four years ago with a pledge to "drain the swamp" and rid the chamber of corruption.
"Upholding a high ethical standard is a serious responsibility that we have," Pelosi said Thursday. She said the ethics process "will work. It's bipartisan. The chips will have to fall where they may politically."