Last-minute negotiations between the House ethics panel and embattled Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York faltered Thursday, setting in motion a trial of the 20-term lawmaker as early as September.
After 21 months of work, a special investigative subcommittee on Thursday detailed 13 charges against Rangel in a 40-page Statement of Alleged Violation. The subcommittee said it had “substantial reason” to believe that serious violations related to the performance of official duties by a member had occurred.
The alleged violations include: failure to report more than $600,000 in income on financial disclosure statements, improper use of rent-stabilized apartment to benefit Rangel’s own campaign committees, failure to report and pay taxes on rental income on a beach villa, and improper solicitation of funds for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York.
“Both foundations and the solicited corporations had business and interests before the House during the period at issue,” the subcommittee concluded. “In some instances, lobbyists on behalf of the corporations were communicating with [Rangel's] staff about both legislative issues and potential donations to the Rangel Center. The resulting donations create an appearance of impropriety.”
There’s a wide gap between how the panel describes Rangel’s actions and how he defends them. “[Rangel's] pattern of indifference or disregard to the laws, rules and regulation of the United States and the House of Representatives is a serious violation,” the investigative subcommittee wrote in a July 22 letter, released Thursday.
The investigatory panel also complained that Rangel had made misleading statements to the news media, including a statement on July 7 – 21 days after the 13 counts of alleged violations had been sent to him, that “there is no accusation against me doing something wrong except by the press.”
Rangel did not attend Thursday's hearing – an organizational meeting to publicly present the charges – but he told reporters just before the panel convened that “If I have the opportunity, rest assured I would welcome the opportunity to talk about it.”
“Even though this is not a great day for me, the only good thing I can find is that there is no inference of corruption,” he added.
But public interest groups describe the charges presented by the ethics subcommittee as a significant challenge to Rangel, who, if not cleared of all charges, now faces the prospect of reprimand, censure, or expulsion from the House after the trial.
“These charges are very serious, especially those dealing with the Rangel Center,” says Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), one of the first groups to call for an investigation of Rangel.
“In the list of all of the donors that [Rangel] approached. It didn’t reach a conclusion as to whether he gave them a tax break in return for a contribution to the Rangel Center. I would have expected to see more about that. I would expect to hear a great deal more about that at the trial,” she added.
In a statement responding to the alleged violations, Rangel said, through his lawyers, he did not “dispense any political favors [or] intentionally violate any law, rule or regulation, and that he did not misuse his public office for private gain.”
While talks are expected be ongoing between the ethics panel and Rangel’s attorneys, public interest groups say that it’s not clear how Rangel could at this point avoid a trial, except by resigning from the House and moving beyond the control of the ethics panel.
Republicans on the panel are urging moving forward on a trial regardless of ongoing talks. In his opening statement at today’s hearing, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the subcommittee, said that the time to negotiate a deal with Rangel had passed. "Mr. Rangel . . . was given opportunities to negotiate a settlement under the investigation phase," he said. "We are now in the trial phase."