- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 29, 2010

Kicking off a politically perilous process, the House ethics committee on Thursday officially lodged 13 charges against Rep. Charles B. Rangel, including that he used his office to raise $8 million for a college public policy center named after him and failed to file taxes while he was Congress‘ chief tax writer.

Last-minute efforts to strike a deal to head off a public trial fell short as Republicans said that chance had passed.

Mr. Rangel was not present as two of his colleagues sat as prosecutors and eight others sat as a kind of jury, tasked with deciding the fate of the New York Democrat who earlier this year was pressured into giving up the chairmanship of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

The charges, detailed in a 40-page “Statement of Alleged Violation,” break down into four categories: that he solicited money for the Rangel Center from those doing business before his committee; that he made errors and omissions on his financial-disclosure forms; that he was given use of a rent-controlled apartment in New York for an office; and that he failed to report rental income and pay federal taxes on it.

“A public office is a public trust. Our task is to determine whether Rep. Rangel’s conduct met that standard,” said ethics committee Chairman Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat.

Mr. Rangel’s attorneys, in a 32-page response filed with the committee, acknowledged “inadvertent” mistakes and blamed staffers for some of the errors, including wrong financial-disclosure forms. But the attorneys said Mr. Rangel was not trying to work around the rules.

“The undisputed evidence in the record - assembled by the Investigative Subcommittee over its nearly two-year investigation - is that Congressman Rangel did not dispense any political favors, that he did not intentionally violate any law, rule or regulation, and that he did not misuse his public office for private gain,” Mr. Rangel’s attorneys said.

The last public ethics trial was in 2002, and a drawn-out process could hurt Democrats as they head into November’s elections. Some Democrats had urged Mr. Rangel, a well-liked Korean War veteran who has served nearly 40 years in the House, to cut a deal. But Mr. Rangel balked at having to admit guilt on all charges and, when a last-minute deal reportedly was struck between his attorneys and the committee’s staff, Republicans said it was too late.

“We are now in the trial phase. The American people deserve to hear the truth in this case, and the charges against him,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, the Texan who is serving as the ranking Republican on the trial.

The committee is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, so any deal would have to be bipartisan.

Democratic leaders seemed resigned to having to suffer through a public trial even as they prepare to face an unhappy electorate.

“The chips will have to fall where they may politically, but holding the highest of ethical standards is a top priority for us,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, told reporters before the committee met.

Mrs. Pelosi in 2006 campaigned for Democrats to take control of the House in part by accusing Republicans of bad ethics and promising that her party would “drain the swamp.”

On Thursday, she said the swamp meant “Republican stewardship of the House” and that Democrats succeeded in cleaning up.

“Drain the swamp we did, because this was a terrible place. And we’ve made a tremendous difference and I take great pride in that,” she said. She said there would always be “individual issues.”

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