Rangel Attorneys Lobbied Ethics Panel to Dismiss Charges

Posted July 29, 2010 at 4:01pm

Attorneys for Rep. Charlie Rangel unsuccessfully lobbied a House ethics investigative subcommittee in June to dismiss 13 charges of wrongdoing by the New York Democrat, according to documents released by the ethics committee Thursday.

Rangel, who is set to face a public ethics trial in September, was charged Thursday with breaking House rules and federal law by a special ethics subcommittee.

The allegations, outlined in a 40-page statement, include accusing Rangel of accepting a rent-stabilized apartment for his campaign office, soliciting funding for the Charles B. Rangel Center at the City College of New York using federal resources and franked mail, failing to pay taxes on the Punta Cana villa in the Dominican Republic and failing to file accurate financial disclosure forms.

Rangel’s defense team, led by Zuckerman Spaeder lawyer Leslie Kiernan, filed a motion to dismiss six of those counts June 28, arguing that the accusations failed to violate any laws. Attorneys also asserted that the ethics subcommittee did not have jurisdiction in any of the matters cited in the “statement of alleged violations.”

“With respect to the allegations that respondent violated federal tax law and federal criminal law, the Committee lacks jurisdiction to consider and rule on those allegations and they are hereby dismissed from the SAV,” states a proposed order.

The investigative subcommittee denied Rangel’s request two days later.

“Respondent argues that errors on his personal taxes do not implicate discharge of his official responsibilities,” Reps. Gene Green (D-Texas) and Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), who chaired the investigative panel, wrote in their response. “Respondent appears to be operating under the erroneous belief that the only conduct subject to the discipline is conduct directly relating to the discharge of his official responsibilities.”

The adjudicatory panel, which will try Rangel, convened at a public hearing Thursday to announce the charges.

Bonner noted that Rangel had “multiple opportunities” to negotiate a settlement and avoid a public ethics trial during the investigative phase but failed to do so.

In his formal response to the ethics charges, which the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct released Thursday, Rangel denied wrongdoing.

“The Statement of Alleged Violation (“SAV”) in this case is deeply flawed in its factual premises and legal theories, not only with regard to CCNY, but also as to the other claims,” the response states. “The undisputed evidence in the record — assembled by the Investigative Subcommittee over its nearly two-year investigation — is that Congressman Rangel did not dispense any political favors, that he did not intentionally violate any law, rule or regulation, and that he did not misuse his public office for private gain.”

But as the document defends Rangel’s interaction with the City College — highlighting other Members of Congress, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who have similar institutions named in their honor — it acknowledges the New York lawmaker may have nonetheless violated House rules.

“In retrospect he recognizes that the public would have been better served if he had consulted the Standards Committee staff in advance regarding his desire to help CCNY,” the response states. “If he mistakenly used the wrong letterhead or other modest resources in this worthy cause, the error was made in good faith.”

In his response, Rangel’s attorneys also emphasized that he did not personally benefit from his fundraising for the City College.

“Whatever personal interest the Congressman may have in the ‘perpetuation of his legacy’ contributions to a Center named in his honor do not violate [the Code of Ethics for Government Service] or the gift rule,” the statement reads.

In its report, the investigative subcommittee asserted that the more than $8 million Rangel solicited for the college did benefit him, citing the college’s promise of a well-appointed office and a library for his Congressional papers.

Rangel’s lawyers denied that characterization, asserting that Rangel did not propose the office himself and that it would have been a “benefit to the students.” The statement notes the proposed office has since been abandoned.

The New York lawmaker’s defense also asserted that the House’s refusal to strip an earmark for the Rangel center in 2007 circumvents any ethics charges.

“The House conclusively determined in 2007 that funds for the Rangel Center did not provide an improper financial benefit to Congressman Rangel when it approved an appropriation for the Center,” the statement reads. “That decision forecloses these ethics charges.”

In his 32-page defense, Rangel also objected to charges over his failure to file accurate financial disclosure forms, or pay taxes on his Dominican Republic villa, arguing that he had resolved those issues.

“[I]t was Congressman Rangel who alerted the Standards Committee to the very mistakes with which he is now charged, and which he corrected nearly one year ago in comprehensive amendments,” the statement reads, referring to his financial disclosure forms.