Rangel Says Partisanship Has Seeped into Ethics Process

Posted August 10, 2010 at 3:57pm

Updated: 5:18 p.m.

Rep. Charlie Rangel leveled accusations Tuesday that a Republican lawmaker has injected political partisanship into his looming ethics trial.

The New York Democrat made the claim during an impassioned 35-minute speech on the House floor, during which Rangel also declared that he will not resign from Congress despite calls for him to do so and pressed the ethics committee to set a firm date for his trial.

A subcommittee of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct charged Rangel last month with 13 counts of wrongdoing, including allegations that he misused federal resources to solicit donations for a City College of New York center named in his honor, accepted a rent-stabilized apartment for his campaign office, failed to pay taxes on a Dominican Republic villa and filed inaccurate financial disclosure forms.

Rangel did not name the lawmaker he accused of aiming partisan criticisms against him, but he did refer to a Republican member of the adjudicatory panel that will oversee the trial expected to begin in September. That panel, comprising four Democrats and four Republicans, will review the allegations against Rangel and determine his guilt or innocence.

“When I found out that one of the Republicans that will be sitting on what they call the adjudication committee had made remarks condemning me for my contributions to the City College — that it was a Rangel thing, an ego thing and a corrupt thing — and he was going to judge me, I asked my lawyer, I said, ‘Well, how can they do that?’ [and she] said, ‘Well, the ethics committee can do what they want.'”

Rangel later returned to the subject, stating: “Isn’t this historically the first time that it appears as though partisanship has entered the ethics committee? … Who would want someone who called you politically corrupt to be the ranking bipartisan guy to judge you?” Rangel did not indicate whether the accusations occurred in private, or in a public statement or news report.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the co-chairman of the adjudicatory subcommittee, said Tuesday he would be in touch with Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the subcommittee and the full committee, to discuss the timing for Rangel’s hearing.

“He’s entitled to a fair and impartial hearing,” he said, but declined further comment on Rangel’s criticisms.

Under House ethics committee rules, a Member who faces an ethics trial has the ability to object to any individual assigned to serve on the adjudicatory panel within a 10-day period after the panel is designated. That period expired in Rangel’s case Aug. 2. His office did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether Rangel filed any objections to the GOP lawmakers on his adjudicatory panel.

Rangel also said Tuesday that he faces difficulties in continuing to pay his legal bills, which have exceeded $2 million since the ethics investigation began in 2008.

“I can’t afford to be represented by counsel,” Rangel said. “Each and every day the expenses build up.” He later added, “I can understand how, financially, this thing can go on longer than I can afford, but [my attorney] is willing to assist me in working out something in pro bono, and I’ll expect the leadership to help me.”

It is not clear, however, whether Rangel could receive free legal services under House rules.

Although lawmakers, with the approval of the ethics committee, are permitted to establish legal expense funds to receive gifts to pay for attorney-related costs, those accounts are governed by strict $5,000 annual limits on donations, which include pro bono legal services.

“A Member, officer, or employee may accept pro bono legal assistance without limit to file an amicus brief in his or her capacity as a Member of Congress; to bring a civil action challenging the validity of any federal law or regulation; or to bring a civil action challenging the lawfulness of an action of a federal agency, or an action of a federal official taken in an official capacity, provided that the action concerns a matter of public interest, rather than a matter that is personal in nature,” states a 1996 memorandum on legal expense funds included in the House ethics manual. “Pro bono legal assistance for other purposes shall be deemed a contribution subject to the restrictions of these regulations.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a statement responding to Rangel’s speech Tuesday, saying: “As I have repeatedly stated, the independent, bipartisan Ethics Committee is the proper arena for ethics matters to be discussed. The process is moving forward in a way that will ensure that the highest ethical standards are upheld in the House of Representatives.”