Rep. Charles Rangel
“I’m being denied the right to a lawyer,” said Rep. Charles Rangel. It’s one of the fundamental rights of an American citizen.
Associated Press Story
WASHINGTON–New York Rep. Charles Rangel, a longtime power in the U.S. House, violated its rules with financial misconduct, brought it discredit and will be punished, fellow lawmakers sitting as jurors ruled on Tuesday.
Protesting the enduring stain on his four-decade congressional career, the 80-year-old Democrat said he was treated unfairly for “good faith mistakes.” His statement reflected the bitterness of an eight-month career slide, starting with an unrelated ethics ruling that forced him from his coveted chairmanship of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
The conduct often cited by critics was his failure to report income to the IRS from a unit he owned in a Dominican Republic resort–showing the chairman in charge of tax legislation shortchanged the IRS.
Rangel, a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, remains a political kingpin in New York’s famed Harlem neighborhood and is unlikely to resign. He won re-election earlier this month.
Convicted on 11 of 13 charges of rules violations, his ordeal isn’t finished.
The eight-member ethics panel that convicted him–four Democrats and four Republicans–now will write what is likely to be a stinging report to amplify its findings.
Then, the full House ethics committee will conduct a hearing Thursday on the appropriate punishment for Rangel, the silver-haired, gravelly voiced and sartorially flashy veteran of 20 terms in Congress.
Rangel can waive his right to the hearing and ask the committee to go straight to deliberations on possible sanctions.
Possible sanctions include a House vote deploring his conduct, a fine and denial of certain privileges.
Rangel’s downfall, in part, came in the way he solicited money for a New York college center designed as a monument to himself. There also was his decade of misleading annual disclosures of his income and assets and his use of a subsidized New York apartment–designated for residential use–as a campaign office.
The panel deliberated over two days before its chairman, Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren, made a bare-bones statement announcing the findings–leaving a full explanation for the upcoming written report.
The conviction was a fresh setback for Democrats who lost control of the House to the GOP in the midterm elections, support for Republican candidates’ assertions of bad conduct.
At his one-day trial on Monday, Rangel was reduced to pleading for a postponement–arguing that his lawyers abandoned him after he paid them some $2 million but could afford no more. The panel rejected his request, and Rangel walked out of the proceeding.
“How can anyone have confidence in the decision of the ethics subcommittee when I was deprived of due process rights, right to counsel and was not even in the room?” Rangel complained on Tuesday. “I can only hope that the full committee will treat me more fairly and take into account my entire 40 years of service to the Congress before making any decisions on sanctions.”
He called the panel’s findings “unprecedented” because there was no rebuttal evidence. He complained that the rejection of his appeal for more time violated “the basic constitutional right to counsel.”
Rangel, echoing a statement he made in August in a speech to the House, added, “Any failings in my conduct were the result of good faith mistakes.” He said they were caused by “sloppy and careless record keeping but were not criminal or corrupt.”
New York Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who attended Rangel’s fundraiser in August while campaigning to clean up New York politics, said, “It’s obviously a sad situation to experience.”
“It’s important that people have full faith in the integrity in public service, so it’s painful to watch,” Cuomo said Tuesday at a press event near Rochester. “But we’ll see what happens at the end of the process.”
The eight-member jury panel was unanimous on most charges against Rangel. Members split 4-4 on a charge that he violated a ban on gifts because he was to have an office–and storage of his papers–at the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York.
Two counts charging him with misuse of Congress’ free mail privilege were merged into one. And the panel voted 7-1 on a final charge that he had brought discredit on the House. No breakdown was given on who voted no.
The charges said the solicitation for the Rangel Center targeted foundations and businesses that were seeking official action from the House or had interests that might be substantially affected by Rangel’s congressional conduct.
However, Rangel was not accused of using his influence to pass or defeat legislation.
During Monday’s trial proceeding, the chief counsel for the House ethics committee, Blake Chisam, told the jury that Rangel could have received permission to solicit nonprofit foundations. However, he could not have used congressional stationery and staff as he was found to have done.
Rangel had previously acknowledged some of the charges, including submission of 10 years’ worth of incomplete and inaccurate annual statements disclosing his assets and income.
He also admitted he initially did not report his rental income from a unit he owned at the Punta Cana resort in the Dominican Republic.
An apartment in Harlem’s Lennox Terrace complex housed the Rangel for Congress and National Leadership PAC political committees, although the lease terms said the unit was for living purposes only.
Chisam had told the jury that other tenants were evicted at an increasing rate for violating the same lease terms.