Rangel faces historic ethics trial after panel issues charges 

A House ethics panel on Thursday brought 13 charges against 20-term Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel, setting the stage for what could be an historic trial into what his accusers describe as a pattern of corrupt behavior.

After a two-year investigation, the Harlem lawmaker was cited for violations ranging from improper use of congressional stationery to finessing favorable legislation for several big companies in exchange for large donations to a school in his name.

A bipartisan ethics panel announced the charges after failing to reach a back-room deal that would have spared Rangel from becoming the subject of the first public ethics trial since 2002.

"These actions, if proven, would demonstrate that Mr. Rangel violated multiple provisions of the House rules and federal statutes," said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the top Republican on a special ethics committee empaneled to try the Rangel case. He described the charges as "very serious."

The case, long investigated behind closed doors, now moves into the public phase, with proceedings resembling a trial scheduled to begin some time after Congress returns from summer recess, in mid-September.

Rangel's lawyers, however, continue to try to broker a deal, according to aides. But at this point, Republicans on the panel may not accept it.

McCaul signaled on Thursday that Rangel's chance to cut a deal is over.

"Let me be clear that Mr. Rangel, under these rules, was given opportunities to negotiate a settlement during the investigation phase," McCaul said. "We are now in the trial phase."

The trial could have an effect on this fall's political races, with daily details into allegations of corruption by one of their colleagues damaging dozens of already vulnerable House Democrats.

After the charges were read, some of Rangel's Democratic colleagues said they hoped he would find a way to avoid going to trial.

"It would create a spectacle and a lot of the people who have such admiration for Charlie Rangel will wonder if this is the best way for him to end his career," said Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., who is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. "I don't think there are any group of members who want to see the media spending the whole month of September writing about an ethics trial involving a prominent Democrat."

The panel laid out the 13 charges in a 40-page document. They include submitting inaccurate or incomplete financial disclosure statements, failure to pay taxes on rental income from a beachfront home in the Dominican Republican and misusing his congressional staff and the House stationery to solicit donations to the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York.

The most serious charge stems from the Rangel Center. According to the document, Rangel, who was chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, stands accused of accepting "favors and benefits from donors to the Rangel Center under circumstances which might be construed ... as influencing the performance of his governmental duties."

The report cites meetings Rangel held to solicit donations from Nabors Industries, an oil company, as well as Verizon, New York Life and AIG. The companies provided donations as they were lobbying Congress on several issues over which the Ways and Means panel had jurisdiction.

Rangel issued a 32-page response to the ethics charges.

"The undisputed evidence in the record 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," the statement said.


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