Rangel Facing Rare Ethics Trial

Posted July 28, 2010 at 6:46pm

Barring a last-minute settlement agreement over allegations that Rep. Charlie Rangel violated House rules, a special ethics panel will meet Thursday to set the stage for a rare ethics trial.

The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct announced late last week that one of its investigative subcommittees had found substantial reason to believe that the New York Democrat violated House rules. The announcement followed a nearly two-year probe into allegations involving Rangel’s personal finances, fundraising efforts and other issues.

Those allegations are set to be revealed by a special adjudicatory panel scheduled to meet for the first time this afternoon.

According to sources knowledgeable of the ethics process, the public meeting will serve as an organizational session, including statements from the adjudicatory panel’s leadership, chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who is also ethics chairwoman, ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), ethics ranking member Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), who headed the investigative subcommittee. The panel will also read a “statement of alleged violations” detailing the accusations against Rangel.

“It’s like the reading of an indictment in federal district court,” said attorney Stan Brand, who once served as House general counsel. Brand is not representing Rangel. “It’s a formal proffering of charges.”

Rangel did not indicate Wednesday whether he would attend the meeting but said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but I will be prepared to make a statement when something happens.”

But a source familiar with the ethics process suggested the panel would be unlikely to refuse a request from Rangel to do so: “If he wishes to speak, I’d be surprised if they didn’t let him.”

The source added, however, that attorneys in similar scenarios are not typically keen on allowing their clients to make public statements: “It would likely cause his attorneys great concern.”

Rangel said Tuesday that he has not been personally involved in negotiations over a potential settlement, but he made it clear that he would be an active participant if the allegations reach an ethics trial.

In the event that no settlement is reached between Rangel and the ethics panel’s staff — no agreement had been announced as of Wednesday night — the trial is expected to begin in September.

During a trial, attorneys for the House ethics panel present the allegations set out by the investigative subcommittee and Rangel would be allowed to offer a defense. Both sides could call witnesses and introduce documents and other evidence. The committee could also issue subpoenas for both itself and on Rangel’s behalf.

At the conclusion of the trial, the adjudicatory panel’s eight Members would convene an executive session and determine Rangel’s guilt or innocence on each of the counts.

If the panel found Rangel in violation of any House rules, it would refer the matter to the full ethics committee to vote on a specific punishment. The full House would also need to vote if the committee called for Rangel to be reprimanded, censured or expelled from the chamber.

But should Rangel reach a settlement with the panel’s attorneys, the adjudicatory panel’s work could unfold more quickly.

Any agreement would likely halt the adjudicatory panel from disclosing the full list of accusations against Rangel, unless he agreed to admit wrongdoing to all of the charges.

[IMGCAP(1)]”The presumption is, if there’s an agreement reached … that will be replaced,” Brand said.

Such an agreement would require Rangel to admit his guilt on select allegations outlined by the investigative subcommittee and could include a specific punishment, such as an apology to the House, and a more specific sanction, such as a letter of reproval.

Lofgren, who declined to be interviewed Wednesday, said Tuesday that the adjudicatory panel would need to approve any accord involving Rangel.

Bonner also declined to comment Wednesday on Rangel’s negotiations.

The House rarely conducts such internal trials and last convened a similar panel in 2002, when then-Rep. James Traficant was convicted in federal court on corruption charges. The Ohio Democrat was ultimately expelled from the House.

Rangel appeared his usual jovial self on the House floor Wednesday, although a number of Democrats came up to him to offer moral support, Members said.

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), who described Rangel as “like a brother,” said Rangel isn’t showing the strain of the investigation. “He is the most upbeat guy around here,” Ackerman said. “I don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, but I know Charlie has a lot of friends around here.”

Ackerman said Rangel has not yet been asking other Members to support him, and Members still do not know how extensive the case against him is.

“Nobody knows what’s going to come out,” he said. “He hasn’t had a chance to present his side of the story, but he’s presented his life. … He’s certainly done a lot of inoculating himself in the court of goodwill.”

Ackerman wouldn’t speculate on the odds of Rangel remaining in Congress.

“I’m not writing anybody’s obituary before they’re dead,” he said.

In a speech to the Urban League on Wednesday, Rangel did not specifically mention the ethics case pending against him, although he seemed to reference it.

“Whether it’s personal or political, we all know that life ain’t been no crystal stair,” Rangel said, quoting a Langston Hughes poem. “And what we have to do as a people, as an organization, as a Congress, as a nation is [ensure] that fairness and equity includes us. And any time, for any purpose, we find ourselves excluded, there’s something that we can’t do. We can’t give up and … we can’t give in. And all I can promise you is when the sun is shining and everything is settled, we once again will be standing together with dignity and with honor, to complete our jobs for our communities and for this great United States.”