Rangel Probe Reaches a Two-Year Milestone

Posted July 14, 2010 at 6:31pm

It has been 729 days since Rep. Charlie Rangel publicly appealed for an ethics investigation into his own actions. He’s still awaiting the outcome.

The New York Democrat, who has paid more than $1.5 million to date on legal fees, faces a multipronged investigation into his personal finances, living arrangements, fundraising efforts and even his use of a House parking space.

The investigation into Rangel, begun in July 2008, has yet to set a House record for longevity. But Congressional ethics observers acknowledge that nearly two years is nonetheless a lengthy inquiry.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, also known as the ethics committee, declined a request for comment, and it is not known whether the highly secretive panel will release a final report.

Individuals familiar with the ethics process cited a litany of reasons the probe could remain incomplete, ranging from scheduling delays in the investigative stage to disagreements over the final report.

“Only the people on the ethics committee would know why it’s taken so long,” Public Citizen’s Craig Holman said. “It certainly could be a factor that they’re taking on more cases … but still that’s not an excuse to drag on an investigation for two years. It isn’t fair to anyone: It isn’t fair to the public, and it isn’t fair to Rangel.”

But a former House ethics aide, who requested anonymity and agreed to speak generally about the investigative process, said any number of factors can lengthen an inquiry, including cooperation from a Member.

“Some attorneys have a scorched-earth policy, and that just takes a long time,” the former aide said.

[IMGCAP(1)]The subcommittee itself can also demand additional time, if for example, Members of the panel insist on being present for each witness deposition.

“They’re not going to be able to dedicate the whole day to depositions,” the former aide added, noting that schedules must compete with committee hearings and other activities when the House is in session.

Even after the investigative stage is complete, a final report may face delays. Although a report requires only a major vote of three of the four subcommittee members, the investigative panels often strive for unanimity.

“Reaching agreement on the report can also take a long time,” the aide said.

During its inquiry into Rangel, the committee has also expanded its focus three times.

When Rangel first called for an investigation July 17, 2008, and filed a formal request a few days later, he sought only a review of his use of official letterhead in the allegations about his fundraising for a City College of New York center bearing his name.

He followed that request by asking for a review of his living arrangement in three rent-controlled apartments in New York City. The ethics committee announced July 31, 2008, it would review both issues.

Then in September 2009, Rangel asked for a review of his personal finances, after acknowledging he failed to report the rental income from a Dominican Republic vacation home and owed about $10,000 in federal and state taxes.

The ethics panel formed an investigative subcommittee a few weeks later to review all the allegations to date, as well as whether Rangel had inappropriately used a House parking space for vehicle storage. The subcommittee includes Reps. Gene Green (D-Texas) and Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), who serve as the subcommittee chairman and ranking member, and Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Doc Hastings (R-Wash.).

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) publicly asserted in late November 2008 that the ethics committee would complete its work before the start of the 111th Congress. A Pelosi spokesman declined to comment on the investigation this week.

But in December 2008, the ethics committee announced the subcommittee would also consider allegations that Rangel engaged in a legislative quid pro quo with a company whose chief executive promised a donation to the same City College center.

Then in September 2009, the ethics panel announced another addition to its investigation, after Rangel filed amended financial disclosures showing he had previously failed to report more than $600,00 in assets and other income.

At that time — the ethics panel’s last public comment on the Rangel inquiry — the subcommittee offered a peek at its work, revealing that it had issued 150 subpoenas, interviewed 34 witnesses and analyzed more than 12,000 pages of documents.

But it gave no indication of when the review might be completed.

Rangel, who has publicly dismissed the allegations, although he did pay back-taxes related to his Dominican property, has himself indicated at turns that the investigation was nearing closure, suggesting in January 2009 the inquiry would be dismissed, and later in May 2009 that it was nearing its end.

Asked Wednesday about the status of the inquiry, a Rangel spokesman said: “Congressman Rangel respects the Ethics Committee and the review process that is underway and he looks forward to the resolution of this matter.”

The New York Democrat forfeited his gavel at the Ways and Means Committee in March of this year after the ethics committee admonished him in an unrelated investigation into two corporate-
sponsored trips to the Caribbean.

Although the panel cleared five other lawmakers who attended the trips, it held Rangel responsible because his aides were aware that some of the funding for the excursion came from prohibited sources.