Rangel’s Feud With the Times Intensifies

Posted December 3, 2008 at 6:11pm

The they-said, they-said between embattled House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel’s (D-N.Y.) camp and the New York Times took a bizarre new twist Wednesday afternoon. The newspaper posted online a letter to the editor Rangel sent the day after a Nov. 25 story ran alleging a possible quid pro quo involving the Harlem Democrat.  Alongside Rangel’s missive came an enumerated response-to-the-response from the reporter who wrote the initial piece. “The Times waited a week to print Chairman Rangel’s letter and responded with a rehash of the original, unsourced string of allegations and errors,” Ways and Means spokesman Matthew Beck said. A New York Times editor was not immediately available for comment. The story behind the exchange — which alleged Rangel reversed a previous policy stand to help an oil company retain a multimillion-dollar tax loophole while the firm’s chief executive pledged $1 million to a new educational center bearing the lawmaker’s name — threatens the veteran legislator’s grip on the Ways and Means gavel. Rangel is already facing an ethics committee inquiry into his use of Congressional stationery to solicit for the center — in addition to his failure to disclose income on a Caribbean vacation home, and the propriety of his use of four rent-stabilized apartments in New York City. But last week’s New York Times report, with its implication that Rangel traded official action for the seven-figure pledge to his center, appeared to significantly complicate his efforts to clear his name. It is not yet apparent whether the ethics committee has, or will, incorporate the latest allegations into their inquiry, though Democratic sources said that was likely. Introducing the side-by-side arguments in Wednesday’s online edition, the Times noted that last week’s story was based on extensive reporting, including reviews of Congressional records and public statements and interviews with “dozens of people involved in the creation of the law.” The paper said Rangel was repeatedly offered, and declined, opportunities to explain the events in question. His lawyers, the paper said, conveyed his recollections “in face-to-face discussions, more than two dozen telephone conversations and via e-mail, over the course of several weeks. Those recollections were reflected in the article itself. Mr. Rangel’s letter, written after the article was published, appears here unedited. Accordingly, it is accompanied by a response from The Times.” In his letter to the editor, Rangel blasted the paper’s account of his involvement with the tax bill in question, saying it reflected “a willful blindness to the history of that legislation and a fundamental ignorance of the legislative process that produced it.” He said he had nothing to do with preserving a tax break for Nabors Industries, the company whose executive, Eugene M. Isenberg, reportedly pledged $1 million for Rangel’s center. Instead, Rangel said, he had developed a bill that preserved the loophole — consistent with what he called his longstanding opposition to retroactive tax increases — before “any alleged contact” with a Nabors’ lobbyist. Rangel said Senate Finance Committee staff dropped a provision closing the loophole from their version of the measure before House-Senate negotiations on the final package began.   New York Times reporter David Kocieniewski, in his response, disputed that, arguing that interviews “with lawmakers, lobbyists who worked on the legislation and Congressional staff members  — including aides to the top Senate Democrat — made clear that the objections that killed the move to end the tax loophole came from Mr. Rangel himself.” And the reporter repeated a key assertion in his story — one that Rangel did not directly address in his letter — that the lawmaker and Isenberg sat down with a Nabors’ lobbyist to discuss the tax bill immediately after the two, along with Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau, met to discuss the education center.