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Rangel Facing Rare Ethics Trial

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Rep. Charlie Rangel has admitted to making a variety of errors in reporting his finances and paying taxes, but he said never intended to break any laws.

Barring a last-minute settlement agreement over allegations that Rep. Charlie Rangel violated House rules, a special ethics panel will meet Thursday to set the stage for a rare ethics trial.

The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct announced late last week that one of its investigative subcommittees had found substantial reason to believe that the New York Democrat violated House rules. The announcement followed a nearly two-year probe into allegations involving Rangel’s personal finances, fundraising efforts and other issues.

Those allegations are set to be revealed by a special adjudicatory panel scheduled to meet for the first time this afternoon.

According to sources knowledgeable of the ethics process, the public meeting will serve as an organizational session, including statements from the adjudicatory panel’s leadership, chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who is also ethics chairwoman, ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), ethics ranking member Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), who headed the investigative subcommittee. The panel will also read a “statement of alleged violations” detailing the accusations against Rangel.

“It’s like the reading of an indictment in federal district court,” said attorney Stan Brand, who once served as House general counsel. Brand is not representing Rangel. “It’s a formal proffering of charges.”

Rangel did not indicate Wednesday whether he would attend the meeting but said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but I will be prepared to make a statement when something happens.”

But a source familiar with the ethics process suggested the panel would be unlikely to refuse a request from Rangel to do so: “If he wishes to speak, I’d be surprised if they didn’t let him.”

The source added, however, that attorneys in similar scenarios are not typically keen on allowing their clients to make public statements: “It would likely cause his attorneys great concern.”

Rangel said Tuesday that he has not been personally involved in negotiations over a potential settlement, but he made it clear that he would be an active participant if the allegations reach an ethics trial.

In the event that no settlement is reached between Rangel and the ethics panel’s staff — no agreement had been announced as of Wednesday night — the trial is expected to begin in September.

During a trial, attorneys for the House ethics panel present the allegations set out by the investigative subcommittee and Rangel would be allowed to offer a defense. Both sides could call witnesses and introduce documents and other evidence. The committee could also issue subpoenas for both itself and on Rangel’s behalf.

At the conclusion of the trial, the adjudicatory panel’s eight Members would convene an executive session and determine Rangel’s guilt or innocence on each of the counts.

If the panel found Rangel in violation of any House rules, it would refer the matter to the full ethics committee to vote on a specific punishment. The full House would also need to vote if the committee called for Rangel to be reprimanded, censured or expelled from the chamber.

But should Rangel reach a settlement with the panel’s attorneys, the adjudicatory panel’s work could unfold more quickly.

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