WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Charles Rangel said Friday he won’t step down as chairman of the powerful House tax-writing committee after being admonished by an ethics panel for accepting corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean. The public rebuke of one of the Democrats’ most outspoken leaders posed more woes for a party that had vowed to end a “culture of corruption.”
The House ethics committee said that aides to the 20-term New York Democrat tried at least three times to show him the trips — to Antigua in 2007 and St. Maarten in 2008 — had corporate sponsorship, a violation of congressional gift rules.
The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee claimed that Friday’s report by the ethics panel “exonerates me” because it cites no evidence that he knew the trips were sponsored by corporations.
Rangel denied to investigators that he saw any of the written communications from staff members.
The report said investigators could not determine whether Rangel saw two staff memos to him mentioning corporate sponsorship in 2008 and a letter addressed to him in 2007.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, noting that multiple ethics complaints remain pending against Rangel, declined to say whether he should stay on the job. “We’ll just see what happens next,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters.
In addition to the trips, Rangel still faces potentially more serious allegations, including failing to disclose rental income on a villa in the Dominican Republic, use of his congressional office to raise money for a college center in his name and belated financial disclosure of hundreds of thousands of dollars in previously unreported wealth.
The latest ethics controversy presents yet another headache for Democrats in a difficult year as they try to revive stalled health care legislation and face a likely midterm election loss of seats in Congress. It also was a setback to Pelosi, who had promised to “drain the swamp” of ethics abuses as part of the Democratic campaign to win back the House in 2006.
The ethics panel — formally known as the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct — cited three written communications that it suggested should have alerted Rangel to the role of corporations:
—A memo to Rangel by a staff counsel on Sept. 25, 2008, discussing corporate sponsors for the 2008 conference in St. Maarten.
—A letter from the group listed as the conference sponsor, the Carib News Foundation, to American Airlines regarding tickets for the 2007 conference he attended in Antigua. It contained a line indicating a copy was sent to Rangel.
—An Oct. 23, 2008, memo from the staff counsel to Rangel, discussing an article in the New York Post that was critical of the 2007 conference because of allegations regarding corporate sponsorship.
Rangel told the committee he did not recall receiving the two memos or the letter about tickets, adding that he “did not know why he would have been copied” in on the airline letter.
In a written response to the committee later Friday, Rangel called the panel’s conclusion that he violated gift rules “wrong on the facts and unsupported by the law.” He said he relied on false assertions by the organizers that corporate money was not used.
Referring to the two memos by his staff counsel, Rangel said her “use of the word sponsor does not suggest an understanding that the corporations were ‘sponsors’ within the meaning of the House rules i.e. that their funds were being used to pay for member travel.”