Rangel Charged With 13 Counts of Wrongdoing

Posted July 29, 2010 at 1:24pm

Updated: 3:20 p.m.

A special ethics subcommittee on Thursday afternoon charged Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) with 13 counts of violating House rules and federal laws, including conduct reflecting discreditably on the chamber.

The allegations were outlined in a 40-page report, the product of a two-year probe by an investigative subcommittee of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

The adjudicatory panel held its first public meeting on the Rangel charges Thursday. It will now review the accusations and determine Rangel’s guilt or innocence. If the panel, composed of four Democrats and four Republicans from the House ethics committee, determines the New York lawmaker did violate House rules, it will then refer the matter to the full committee to vote on a punishment.

“The public office is a public trust,” said ethics Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who also leads the adjudicatory panel. “Our task is to determine whether Rep. Rangel’s conduct met that standard.”

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas,) the ranking member on the adjudicatory subcommittee, outlined the charges in his opening remarks, noting that if the allegations prove to be true, Rangel will have “violated multiple provisions of House rules and federal statutes.”

McCaul said Rangel is accused of violating House rules by soliciting foundations and corporations with business before the Ways and Means Committee, for which he then served as chairman, for donations to the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York.

Rangel is also alleged to have misused his staff and official House resources for the same purpose.

The New York Democrat rejected the accusations in a statement authored by Zuckerman Spaeder attorney Leslie Kiernan. The statement was released by the ethics committee.

“[T]his case is deeply flawed in its factual premises and legal theories, not only with regard to [City College of New York], but also as to the other claims. 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,” the document read.

The investigative report revealed that while the landlord took legal action against other tenants for using their apartments for nonresidential purposes, Rangel was on a “special handling list” because of his status as a Member of Congress and was not sued.

McCaul also said Rangel was wrongly allowed to use a rent-stabilized apartment in New York as a campaign office.

He also pointed to allegations that Rangel failed to report rental income from his Dominican Republic villa on both his financial disclosure report and personal taxes. Rangel is also accused of failing to report $600,000 worth of assets on his annual financial disclosure forms.

The report indicated that the panel did dismiss one charge: that Rangel misused a House parking space for long-term vehicle storage.

Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) who was chairman of the investigative subcommittee that looked into the matter, said the House Administration Committee will be asked to review parking regulations and enforcement.

In remarks to the panel, Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), who served as the investigative subcommittee’s ranking member, said, “Mr. Rangel may have broken the rules of the House and brought discredit to this body.”

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

The special panel convened and outlined the charges despite earlier reports suggesting Rangel had cut a deal on a settlement. Rangel denied a deal just before the committee meeting.

Such proceedings are a rarity in the House, and the last occurred in 2002 when then-Rep. James Traficant was convicted in federal court on corruption charges. The Ohio Democrat was ultimately expelled from the House.

During the brief meeting, Members of the adjudicatory panel referred repeatedly to public skepticism toward Congress and a desire to shore up the institution’s reputation.

“We have an obligation to the American people to protect the integrity and credibility of the House,” McCaul said. “It is certainly not lost on any member of this subcommittee the approval ratings of this body. … The pressure is even greater to ensure these proceedings are fair, open and conducted in a strictly nonpartisan manner. In the minds of the American people Congress has become completely self-serving and so tone-deaf that Members somehow feel the rules don’t apply to them. We must regain the people’s trust.”