Rep. Charles Rangel vows to fight ethics trial: 'I'm not going away'

The House ethics panel has outlined 13 charges against Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York. But the 20-term lawmaker gave a defiant, off-the-cuff speech Tuesday.

Susan Walsh/AP
Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York talks with reporters on his way to the elevator on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday. He defended himself against 13 ethics charges in a House speech Tuesday.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York took to the House floor today to set the record straight: Would he quietly step down rather than face a public corruption trial on the eve of midterm elections that could topple his party’s House majority?

The answer, emphatically, is no.

“If I were you, I would want me to go away too. I'm not going away," said the 20-term Harlem lawmaker, in a surprise, emotional speech that kept House members riveted to their seats, even as they missed their afternoon plane reservations home.

Democratic leaders called the House back into session today to pass a $26 billion emergency aid package for teachers and state workers, as well as a $600 million measure to beef up security along the US-Mexican border. But Congressman Rangel told colleagues that his situation, too, constituted an emergency. After two years of investigation by the House ethics panel, Rangel said that he deserved a quick resolution to the charges against him.

“This has to stop sometime," he said. "If I can't get my dignity back here, then fire your best shot at getting rid of me through expulsion."

The charges

On July 29, a special investigative subcommittee of the House ethics panel outlined 13 charges against Rangel, including failure to report income, improper use of rent-stabilized apartments, failure to pay taxes on a beach rental property, and unethical fundraising for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York. A trial by the full ethics panel – and, if necessary, the full House – is expected to begin in September.

In a rambling speech delivered without notes, Rangel told House colleagues that he may have made mistakes, but that there was no indication of corruption.

“You can’t get so carried away by good intentions that you violate the rules,” he said. “I apologize for this. But corruption? There’s no evidence that this was ever found.” Moreover, he said, If the ethics system “doesn’t work for me, it may not work for you.”

He also reminded Democratic colleagues of favors he had done for them over the years. “I’m the guy that raised money in Republican districts to get you here,” he said.

Since 1989, Rangel has raised nearly $20 million for House colleagues through his leadership PAC, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee this week launched robocall campaigns calling on Democrats in vulnerable seats to return “dirty campaign money” from Rangel and Rep. Maxine Waters (D) of California, who also faces an ethics trial this September.

Cool response from House leaders

House Democratic leaders were cool to Rangel’s appeal, which his own lawyers and friends had urged him not to make, he acknowledged.

“As I have repeatedly stated, the independent, bipartisan Ethics Committee is the proper arena for ethics matters to be discussed,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement after Rangel’s remarks. “The process is moving forward in a way that will ensure that the highest ethical standards are upheld in the House of Representatives.”

Rep. Peter King (R) of New York, who describes himself as a friend of Rangel, said that Rangel’s decision to take to the floor was a mistake. “The more you talk about it, it just raises the issue more,” he said. “After 40 years, he deserves better.”

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