- Associated Press - Monday, November 15, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York, saying “50 years of public service is on the line,” implored a House ethics panel Monday to postpone his ethics trial until he can get a new lawyer.

The former Ways and Means Committee chairman made an impassioned opening statement that said he ran out of money to pay his previous attorney after spending nearly $2 million.

Mr. Rangel, 80, is a 20-term Democrats from New York’s famed Harlem neighborhood. He is accused of 13 counts of financial and fundraising misconduct that violated House rules.

An ethics panel of four Democrats and four Republicans sat as a jury in a House committee room Monday morning — only the second time this type of proceeding was held under revamped in-house policing procedures adopted two decades ago.

If the panel finds that Mr. Rangel broke the rules, the House ethics panel could recommend that the House vote to condemn Rangel’s conduct.

“My family has caught hell” in the investigation that has lasted two-and-a-half years, Mr. Rangel said.

The ethics investigation goes back to at least July 2008. Only former Rep. James Traficant, Ohio Democrat, who was expelled from the House after a criminal conviction, has faced a similar trial since current House ethics procedures were adopted two decades ago.

Key charges portray Mr. Rangel as a veteran congressman who thought he could ignore rules on disclosing his assets, and improperly used official resources to raise money for a college center that was a monument to his career.

But an allegation that caught the public’s eye was his failure to declare rental income to the IRS from a resort unit he owned in the Dominican Republic.

The case has generated its share of political game-playing. Republicans on the House ethics committee demanded that the proceeding be held before the election, when the trial of the House’s fourth-most-senior member could have embarrassed Democrats. The Democratic committee chairman, Zoe Lofgren of California, rejected the request.

Mr. Rangel was charged by an investigative panel of four Democrats and four Republicans with 13 counts of violating House rules.

A separate group of eight, four from each party, will act as a jury to decide whether there’s “clear and convincing evidence” that House rules were broken. Ethics committee lawyers will function as prosecutors.

If Mr. Rangel is found to have violated rules, the ethics committee would meet to decide punishment. It could end the case with a critical report, or recommend a House vote expressing displeasure with Mr. Rangel’s conduct.

Mr. Rangel has acknowledged ethical lapses; he’s argued he did not intend to break the rules.

The charges allege violations of:

—A House gift ban and restrictions on solicitations. Mr. Rangel is accused of using congressional staff, letterhead and workspace to seek donations for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York. The requests usually went to charitable arms of businesses with issues before Congress, including Mr. Rangel’s Ways and Means Committee.

—A U.S. government code of ethics. Several allegations fall under this code, among them: Accepting favors (the Rangel Center donations) that could be construed as influencing Rangel’s congressional duties; acceptance of a rent-subsidized New York apartment used as a campaign office, when the lease said it was for residential use only; and failure to report taxable income.

—The Ethics in Government Act and a companion House rule requiring “full and complete” public reports of a congressman’s income, assets and liabilities each year. Mr. Rangel is charged with a pattern of submitting incomplete and inaccurate disclosure statements. He only filed amended reports covering 1998 to 2007 after the investigative ethics panel began looking into his disclosures. He belatedly reported at least $600,000 in assets.

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