- The Washington Times - Friday, October 9, 2009

The House ethics committee on Thursday said it will look into why the nation’s chief tax-law writer failed to report millions of dollars of income and business transactions on his financial disclosure forms, deepening the potential trouble for Rep. Charles B. Rangel.

Committee members said they voted unanimously to expand what had already been an extensive probe into the finances of the New York Democrat, who is chairman of the HouseWays and Means Committee.

Mr. Rangel’s spokesman said the announcement was “nothing new.”

“Today’s action by the committee is a technicality, as everything they referenced in today’s announcement has already been subject to ongoing review by the ethics committee and its staff,” said spokesman Robin Peguero. “It is clear that the committee is being very thorough and deliberative in their process, hence today’s announcement.”

But Republicans said the committee decision puts more pressure on Democrats to remove Mr. Rangel, and said it was unseemly for the top tax-writer to have such questions about his own finances.

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“Given the expanded investigation announced today, it is past time for Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi to insist that Chairman Rangel step aside until the ethics committee completes its work,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “The American people won’t stand for having a chairman of the House’s tax-writing committee who is under investigation for not paying his taxes. What more has to happen before Speaker Pelosi does the right thing?”

The ethics committee said it has already interviewed 34 witnesses, issued nearly 150 subpoenas and analyzed 12,000 pages of documents. But the committee, in a statement from Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat, and Rep. Jo Bonner of Alabama, the panel’s top Republican, said confidentiality rules restricted them from saying more.

The statement follows a failed attempt Wednesday by House Republicans to remove Mr. Rangel from his chairman’s post.

Led by Rep. John Carter of Texas, Republicans forced to the House floor a resolution calling on Mr. Rangel to give up his chairman’s gavel until the ethics probe is complete. But Democrats instead moved to refer the resolution to the ethics committee - a move that succeeded on a 246-153 vote, with 19 lawmakers voting “present.”

Still, Republicans said they saw signs of slippage in Mr. Rangel’s support since two Democrats voted with nearly all Republicans to strip Mr. Rangel of his chairmanship.

Ways and Means is one of Congress’ most powerful committees. It originates tax legislation and also takes a strong hand in health and trade bills. The chairman of the panel has long been considered one of Washington’s most influential leaders.

The ethics committee said it will now look into the financial disclosure forms Mr. Rangel filed earlier this year. The new forms showed income and assets he should have acknowledged from 2002 through 2006.

The committee had already been investigating Mr. Rangel for 16 months on an expanding number of allegations, including tax evasion and failure to report income and assets.

Among the allegations are that Mr. Rangel failed to report income from rental property in the Dominican Republic, that he was living in a rent-controlled New York apartment not listed as a primary residence and that he had at least $250,000 in an unreported checking account. Another allegation is that Mr. Rangel used official congressional letterhead to solicit donations for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York.

Republicans say the 16-month review has dragged on without resolution and that Democrats continue to shield Mr. Rangel despite the congressman’s own acknowledgment - in revised disclosure statements this summer - that his net worth was roughly $500,000 more, or nearly double, than what he previously reported.

“This isn’t an isolated incident - it’s a pattern of behavior,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican. “If the chairman of the committee charged with writing our tax laws didn’t know he should be reporting assets and income received from property and rent, then he’s criminally negligent. If he did know it and failed to do so anyway, then he’s just plain criminal.”

He and other Republicans are demanding that Mr. Rangel release his tax forms so Congress can see whether Mr. Rangel also underreported his net worth to the IRS - an agency Mr. Rangel oversees as chairman.

Mrs. Pelosi’s office said Thursday afternoon that the speaker would comment later. She has previously rejected calls for Mr. Rangel to step aside, saying the ethics committee should be allowed to finish its investigation.

Tax problems sunk several of President Obama’s Cabinet nominees earlier this year, though Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner was confirmed despite acknowledging he had failed to pay some taxes he owed.

Mr. Rangel’s woes have given Republicans and conservative activist groups ammunition for fundraising.

Mr. Rangel, who entered Congress in 1971, was among those who voted earlier this week in favor of referring to committee the resolution calling for him to give up his chairmanship.

“That’s where it belongs,” he said. “It doesn’t belong on the floor.”

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