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Stark Runs Into Stiff Resistance

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Rep. Charlie Rangel, shown here at the memorial for the late Rep. John Murtha, agreed to give up his Ways and Means gavel on Wednesday after it became clear that his support was crumbling.

It was a highly unusual development — not least because Rangel wasn’t facing a federal investigation. Under pressure from investigations into their activities, a small number of Members have relinquished committee assignments in recent years. But unlike Rangel, most of those lawmakers have done so as a result of federal investigations.

Rep. Alan Mollohan (W.Va.) gave up the top Democratic seat on the ethics committee in 2006 following revelations of a Justice Department investigation into earmarks he procured for five West Virginia nonprofit groups run by friends and campaign contributors, some of whom participated in lucrative real estate deals with the lawmaker. The Justice Department ended that inquiry in January without action.

Mollohan kept his top spot on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, however, although he did publicly recuse himself from the Justice Department’s budget.

That same year, then-Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) was similarly pressured to give up his chairmanship of the House Administration Committee amid a Justice Department probe of influence-peddling of ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The ethics committee did open its own inquiry into the matter, although Ney resigned before its completion, after pleading guilty to charges connected to the Abramoff inquiry.

Democratic lawmakers also forcibly removed then-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) from Ways and Means in 2006 following an August 2005 raid on his home that uncovered $90,000 in cash in his freezer. Jefferson was found guilty on public corruption charges in August 2009 and is currently appealing the verdict.

Other lawmakers pressured to forgo committee assignments in the face of federal investigations included then-Reps. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) and Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), who each gave up plum seats in 2007. Renzi was later indicted and is set to stand trial on public corruption charges in Arizona this month.

Jennifer Yachnin contributed to this report.

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