Rangel’s Mess

Posted September 16, 2008 at 4:12pm

Rep. Charlie Rangel’s (D-N.Y.) multiple financial misdeeds certainly merit investigation and certainly are an embarrassment to Democrats, but do not — at this point — justify calls for his ouster as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

House Democratic Caucus rules provide that Members must stand down from committee posts — including chairmanships — only if they are indicted or censured by the full House. Rangel is miles from either of those sanctions.

This is not to say he hasn’t erred — again and again, and seriously. Federal and New York state authorities ought to be investigating his failure to report $75,000 in rental income he received from a vacation home in the Dominican Republic over a 10-year period, or pay taxes on it.

Rangel himself has called for the House ethics committee to investigate the Dominican case, the arrangements under which he was able to occupy four rent-stabilized luxury apartments in Harlem and his use of House stationery to set up fundraising meetings for a public policy institute named after him at the City College of New York.

Requesting these ethics probes does have a kick-the-can-down-the-road quality. None of the investigations is likely to be completed before the election or, probably, before the end of this Congress. In fact, the Dominican issue can’t be investigated now because Rangel made the request within 60 days of the election.

Then there’s the issue of Rangel’s repeated failures to properly report — or, often, misreport — property transactions on his House financial disclosure forms, which Roll Call has examined extensively. Some of the errors may well be due to lack of clarity in the reporting system itself and some, perhaps, to staff error. Nonetheless, he signed them.

Rangel has arranged for an unsatisfactory resolution to the disclosure mess — the hiring of his own “forensic accountant” to examine the record, whose report will be turned over to Rangel’s own lawyer and the ethics committee, and will be made public only after the committee decides how to dispose of all the Rangel-related issues.

Rangel’s casualness about reporting and paying taxes surely raises questions about his dedication to obeying the tax laws his committee writes. And, if he were to voluntarily step aside as Ways and Means chairman until investigations are over, we’d understand.

We’d understand, too, if House Democratic leaders pushed him aside in order to avoid political damage before the election. Various newspapers, including the New York Times, have called for this.

And so, of course, have Republicans — in high dudgeon. But they did not observe the same standard during federal investigations of Reps. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), ranking member on the Appropriations Committee, and Don Young (R-Alaska), ranking member on the Natural Resources Committee.

Republicans also cite the example of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), who was forced out of his spot on Ways and Means. But Jefferson’s home and office had been raided by FBI agents and he was duly indicted. Rangel, whatever his misdeeds, is not in the same league.