- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In a stinging rebuke to one of Capitol Hill’s most powerful lawmakers, a bipartisan House panel Tuesday found Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, guilty of 11 of 13 ethics-violation charges, including using congressional staff and stationery to solicit donations.

The 20-term congressman and former chairman of the House’s tax-writing committee condemned the investigative subcommittee’s ruling, calling it unfair, unfortunate and unprecedented.

“How can anyone have confidence in the decision of the ethics subcommittee when I was deprived of due-process rights, right to counsel and was not even in the room?” said Mr. Rangel, who a day earlier walked out of a hearing into the charges.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the California Democrat who heads the panel, said the decision-making process was “a difficult assignment, time-consuming, and we have approached our duties diligently.”

“We have tried to act with fairness, led only by the facts and the law,” she said. “I believe that we have accomplished that mission.”

The full 10-member panel, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans and commonly called the “ethics committee,” now will conduct a hearing to determine the appropriate punishment for the 80-year-old Harlem lawmaker. The panel earlier had floated the possibility of a formal reprimand - not expulsion - as an appropriate punishment. It is not clear whether Mr. Rangel’s refusal to cooperate with the investigative hearing or to offer a defense will affect the level of his punishment.

Mr. Rangel won easy re-election to a 21st term on Nov. 2.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat, cautioned against condemning Mr. Rangel before the full Committee on Standards of Official Conduct has ruled on the charges.

“I think that people should judge Charlie Rangel by his long career and put into perspective what has happened as of late,” Mr. Engel told a gathering of reporters at the Capitol Tuesday. “I think he has done a very many good things for his district and for New York and for the country.”

Mr. Engel added that he was “saddened and surprised” by the subcommittee’s ruling.

Mr. Rangel, a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, has long been under an ethical cloud. Earlier this year, he was forced to resign his coveted chairmanship of the tax-law-writing Ways and Means Committee for failing to report to the Internal Revenue Service his income from a unit he owned in a Dominican Republic resort, an irony not lost on his detractors. Tuesday’s ruling found he failed to disclose his assets accurately and improperly using a rent-stabilized residential apartment as a campaign office.

The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington on Tuesday called for Mr. Rangel to step down from office, regardless of whether the violations were deliberate or inadvertent.

“The facts were clear: Mr. Rangel violated numerous House rules and federal laws,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “The American people deserve to be represented by members of Congress who adhere to the highest ethical standards.”

Mr. Rangel said the subcommittee’s decision to reject his appeal for additional time to secure a new legal team violated his constitutional right to counsel.

“This unfair decision is the inevitable result of the Committee’s insistence on moving forward despite the absence of any legal representation on my behalf,” he said in his statement.

Mr. Rangel previously conceded that he had made errors and was guilty of sloppy bookkeeping, but denied wrongdoing. He declined to comment when confronted by reporters in a House office building hallway after the verdict was announced.

Many Democrats, including Mr. Rangel’s fellow colleagues on the Congressional Black Caucus, declined to comment Tuesday.

The panel was unable to reach an agreement on one charge against Mr. Rangel regarding a possible violation of the House gifts rules. Two charges dealing with accused breaches of the chamber’s rules regarding mail were merged into one, of which the panel found Mr. Rangel in violation.

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Tuesday that he hopes Mr. Rangel will remain in Congress.

“I supported him. His constituents want him,” the mayor said. “Congress has got to do what Congress has got to do, and decide their regulations and enforce them. But remember, Charlie Rangel did a lot for New York City and we shouldn’t forget that.”

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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