- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 27, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — New York Democrat Charles Rangel made a last-minute effort Tuesday to settle his ethics case and prevent a House trial that could embarrass him and damage the Democratic Party.

The talks between Mr. Rangel’s lawyer and the House ethics committee’s nonpartisan attorneys were confirmed by ethics Chairman Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat. Ms. Lofgren said she is not involved in the talks, and added that the committee’s lawmakers have always accepted the professional staff’s recommendations in previous plea bargains.

Mr. Rangel, a 40-year House veteran who is 80 years old, would have to admit to multiple, substantial ethics violations for any plea bargain to be accepted. Earlier negotiations broke down when Mr. Rangel would only admit to some allegations — not enough to satisfy the committee lawyers, according to people familiar with those talks who were not authorized to be quoted by name.

If the talks are not successful, trial proceedings for the Harlem congressman would begin Thursday with a reading of purported ethics violations that are still confidential.

An equally divided, eight-member subcommittee led by Ms. Lofgren would then conduct the actual trial later and decide whether the charges are proved by clear and convincing evidence.

The members are separate from the four-member investigative panel that charged Mr. Rangel, the former Ways and Means Committee chairman, with multiple violations connected to his fundraising, financial disclosure and failure to pay taxes on income from a resort unit.

If the case ends with either a plea bargain or a finding of guilt, the ethics committee would make a decision on punishment that could range from a critical report, to a censure by the House or an expulsion vote.

In previous cases, the only matter to go through a trial was the case of former Rep. Jim Traficant of Ohio, who was expelled by a 420-1 vote in 2002. He went to prison after his conviction for racketeering and bribery.

Some Democrats have called for Mr. Rangel to resign. Others have returned money he raised for them. Many Democrats are worried that they’ll be responding to negative campaign ads about Mr. Rangel if a trial gets under way in September.

An ethics case against former Republican Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, involving his suggestive e-mails to former male pages, coincided with the 2006 campaign and was among the reasons the GOP lost control of the House.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who was not confirming any negotiations, told reporters Tuesday, “I think everybody would like to have it go away in the sense that this is not a pleasant process.”

The Maryland Democrat said he didn’t know what Mr. Rangel’s decision would be.

Mr. Rangel has to do what Mr. Rangel believes is appropriate and proper,” he said.

Ms. Lofgren said she’s been peppered with questions by lawmakers about the negotiations.

“People want to know, am I doing a deal? The answer is no,” Ms. Lofgren said. “I don’t know whether it’s possible or not. The professional staff can arrange a settlement.”

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