- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2008

House Republican leaders Tuesday called for Rep. Charles B. Rangel to relinquish his powerful chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee while the House ethics panel investigates the New York Democrat’s personal finances.

“Given Chairman Rangel’s continuing ethical lapses, he cannot effectively carry out his duties as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee,” read a letter signed by House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and eight other Republicans. The letter was delivered to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

The Republicans also accused Democrats of having done little since taking control of Congress two years ago and accused them of “playing politics at the expense of working people.”

Mrs. Pelosi dismissed their criticisms.

“This letter demonstrates that Republican leaders have no confidence in their members serving on the ethics committee and that they will do anything to divert attention away from the continuing fallout of the Abramoff scandal and the price the Republican Party is continuing to pay for its culture of corruption,” said her spokesman, Brendan Daly.

Mr. Rangel’s attorney, Lanny Davis, called the letter an “obviously partisan attack without the facts.”

“We will trust the ethics committee to focus on the facts and reach an appropriate result,” he said.

Mr. Davis, who writes an opinion column for The Washington Times, said Mr. Rangel will hold a news conference Wednesday morning to discuss the revelations this summer that have put him under fire.

Mr. Rangel, 78, called for an ethics investigation last week after revealing he paid no interest for 10 years on a rental villa he owns in the Dominican Republic. He also acknowledged he did not report $75,000 in rental income on tax returns and financial disclosure forms.

Mr. Rangel said the rental income was not reported because of an oversight. Republicans, who recently sought unsuccessfully to censure Mr. Rangel, called it ironic that the chairman of the House’s tax-writing committee would make such a mistake.

A person familiar with the case said Mr. Rangel plans to file amended city, state and federal tax returns.

Regarding the mortgage on the villa, Mr. Davis said his client is among a group of investors who received the same benefit when the investment properties failed to make as much money as expected. It was not a “sweetheart deal” and Mr. Rangel received no special preference, Mr. Davis said.

These revelations came after Mr. Rangel was under scrutiny for having the use of four rent-controlled apartments in Harlem, one of which he used for campaign work. The ethics committee also is investigating his use of congressional stationery to seek donations for a college center bearing his name.

A government watchdog group said Tuesday that while the ethical questions surrounding Mr. Rangel are troubling, they don’t appear to be criminal.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said she suspects the ethics committee will find it was a violation for Mr. Rangel to have solicited donations with letters written on congressional letterhead.

“I think what they’ll do is tell him he ‘shouldn’t have done it and don’t do it again,’ ” Ms. Sloan said.

Ms. Sloan said it appears now that Mr. Rangel’s problems stem from sloppiness, not a willful attempt to violate the law.

But she said it should serve as a warning to other Democrats who may not be accustomed to the scrutiny that comes with occupying leadership positions. The Democrats won control of Congress in 2006 for the first time in 12 years in no small part because they campaigned as an alternative to the ethical failures of Republicans.

“Here we have had a Congress that has been focused on ethics more and more in the past few years, and apparently Mr. Rangel wasn’t particularly worried,” she said. “He apparently thought the rules didn’t apply to him.”

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