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Democrats Tout Corruption Cleanup as Trials Loom

President Barack Obama appeared to suggest in an interview that aired Sunday that Rangel should resign when he said he hoped Rangel would “end his career with dignity.”

One Democratic leadership aide said that when back in their districts, Democrats “shouldn’t feel any pressure to defend any Member who’s under an ethical cloud.”

Several Democratic leadership aides characterized the ethics story as one that would get little traction beyond the Beltway.

“People back home are focused on the economy and jobs,” one aide said. “Our Members are focused on that. If it does come up, they have a record they can point to.”

Republicans want to leverage the charges to bolster their bid to win control of the House in November. They are emboldened in their efforts by the fact that Democrats gained huge political mileage in 2006 out of what they described as a “culture of corruption” in the House that facilitated ethics scandals involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff and — just weeks before voters went to the polls — Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.).

Ron Bonjean, a former aide to then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), warned that the Democrats’ strategy of distancing themselves from the ethics charges and touting their efforts to overhaul the ethics process could backfire.

“While they put in place extra ethics laws, the Democrats and their party chose not to follow the rules,” Bonjean said. He noted that Rangel’s former position as Ways and Means chairman was a blow for Democrats since Rangel is accused of tax-related violations. “This is a huge problem for them because the Democrats are in power and running the show,” he said.

Republicans are also doing their best to link Democratic candidates to Rangel, in part by calling out those who have accepted and failed to return campaign cash from the New York Democrat.

American Crossroads, a conservative political action committee dedicated to helping Republicans gain seats in November, sent out a list Monday of Democratic Congressional candidates that had received donations from Rangel or Waters.

Top House Democrats are holding out hope that Rangel and Waters will negotiate settlements that could obviate the need for a public and possibly politically costly trial.

Appearing on MSNBC on Monday, Majority Whip James Clyburn said he had discussed the ethics charges with Rangel, and that Rangel had “made it very clear ... that he was willing to stipulate to all of the sworn testimony ... regarding these 13 allegations.”

“Once the stipulation is made like that, then the groundwork is there for a resolution to be had short of any kind of a trial, and so I would hope that we can get this done,” the South Carolina Democrat said.

Rangel, who on Sunday denied through his lawyers that he is impeding ongoing attempts to negotiate a settlement, has maintained that he did nothing wrong intentionally. Waters denied any wrongdoing and vowed Monday to fight the charges.

And another potential land mine is still out there for Democrats: an ongoing ethics committee probe looking into whether Congressional officials mishandled claims that former Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) harassed male members of his staff before he resigned in March.

Jennifer Yachnin contributed to this report.

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