Editorial: Act on Rangel

Posted October 13, 2009 at 2:57pm

It’s been more than a year since the House ethics committee began investigating Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel’s (D-N.Y.) many alleged financial misdeeds. It’s time that the committee act either to punish him or clear him.

We believe that the House voted correctly last week to reject a Republican resolution calling for Rangel to be removed from his committee post pending the outcome of action by the ethics panel, formally known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

That’s because House rules, Democratic Caucus rules and previous Republican practice all provide for removal only when a Member is indicted, which clearly has not happened in Rangel’s case.

In their latest resolution against Rangel, Republicans cited then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) 2006 ouster of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) from his Ways and Means seat, but that followed an FBI raid on his home in which $90,000 in cash was found in his freezer.

Last week, the ethics committee announced it was — yet again — expanding its probe of Rangel to include his August disclosure of more than $500,000 worth of assets that he failed to include in his House financial disclosure reports.

This is the second such expansion by the committee, and it could result in yet more delays in coming to any conclusions about Rangel’s conduct.

The committee announced that, since last September, its investigative subcommittee has “authorized the issuance of close to 150 subpoenas; interviewed approximately 34 witnesses in over 2,100 pages of transcripts; reviewed and analyzed over 12,000 pages of documents; and held over 30 investigative subcommittee meetings.—

We’re gratified to learn that the subcommittee has been working, but we would like to see some results.

It ought to be possible for the committee either to recommend discipline or clear Rangel of charges dating back to last September that he failed to report income on rental property he owned in the Dominican Republic.

Or, on charges that he paid no interest on a mortgage on the property — a possible violation of House gift rules.

Or, on 2008 allegations that he was instrumental in preserving a lucrative tax loophole that benefited an oil drilling firm whose CEO pledged $1 million to an institute named for Rangel at the City College of New York.

The committee does not have to wait until it disposes of all the matters before it involving Rangel before acting on some. At the rate new disclosures tumble in, that process could be endless.

Unless Rangel voluntarily steps aside — which now seems unlikely — pressure is only going to mount for Pelosi to take some action to show that she meant it when she said Democrats would “drain the swamp— of corruption. Rangel’s situation certainly has a swamp-like odor about it. The ethics committee ought to act to clear it.