Deliberations begin in Rangel ethics trial

A House ethics panel moved Rep. Charles Rangel's (D-N.Y.) trial behind closed doors to consider a verdict in the 13 counts against him.

The latest decision ends a roller coaster of a day in an ethics trial that was expected to last all week.

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The adjudicatory committee, made up of four Democrats and four Republicans, reconvened Monday afternoon to announce their decision to go into a closed-door session.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who chairs the panel along with the full ethics committee, announced that the subcommittee had concluded “there is no genuine issue” or dispute over the facts in the case.

She said the panel would go into private, executive session to consider each count against Rangel. It is unclear whether the panel had approved the summary judgment the ethics committee attorneys offered that morning or whether the panel plans to reconvene publicly later Monday to announce any determinations.

Because Rangel didn’t object to the motion for summary judgment, the committee will consider the charges in executive session and will only reconvene to announce their determination on each count. Just like a jury operates, those deliberations could take hours or days.

Rangel released a statement Monday afternoon, saying he was disappointed that the hearing continued after he left the proceedings.

"I am very disappointed that the Ethics Subcommittee has chosen to proceed with the hearing knowing that I am without counsel," he said.

"I hope that my colleagues in Congress, friends, constituents and anyone paying attention will consider my statement and how the committee has been unfair to me," he said in the prepared statement. "They can do what they will with me because they have the power and I have no real chance of fighting back."

After Rangel left the hearing Monday morning, claiming he was denied legal representation, Blake Chisam, the staff director and chief counsel for the full ethics committee, said there are no material facts in dispute and that Rangel himself has not contested them.

Without Rangel present, Chisam insisted that Rangel had violated House rules.

“The record before you is the record,” Chisam said. “The facts are the facts and the counts are ripe for a vote.”

When Chisam was asked whether he saw any evidence of corruption or self-dealing, he paused before answering.

"I see no evidence of corruption," he said. "It's hard to answer the question of personal financial benefit ... I think the short answer is no."

"I believe the congressman quite frankly was overzealous in many of the things he did and at least sloppy in his personal finances."

Chisam moved forward with the case after the adjudicatory committee rejected a request by Rangel to delay the trial because he lacked counsel. Rangel’s team of attorneys told him in late October they could no longer represent him, and Rangel said he could not afford to hire a replacement right away after incurring almost $2 million in legal fees during the past two years.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, offered a motion to continue the trial after Rangel opened his remarks by pleading for a delay and complaining about the unfairness of proceeding with the trial while he lacks counsel.

Lofgren said it is Rangel's "right not to participate in this matter, as mentioned earlier."

"No conclusion as to the facts of this matter can be drawn by the fact that Rep. Rangel has chosen not to participate in this hearing," Lofgren said.

Rangel said he received a letter last week from the committee telling him that he could open a legal defense fund. If he were to do that, he argued, he could hire an attorney.

He engaged in a contentious back-and-forth with Lofgren before the committee recessed.

"Fifty years of public service is on the line," he said. "I am entitled to a lawyer in this proceeding."

Lofgren reiterated before the committee recessed that Rangel had ample opportunities to prepare for his legal defense and has not been prevented from acquiring a new legal counsel. 

Rangel conceded that it would be "very, very unwise" to represent himself.

House rules allow members of Congress to carry a running debt on their legal defense funds, so Rangel wouldn't necessarily need to raise the money before hiring a lawyer.

In his statement, Rangel said he was going to concentrate on his official duties.

"Now, I am going forward — not backwards — to do the job I was elected to do. That is to serve my district and to serve my country, as I have tried to do for the past 50 years," he said. "In the end, I hope that I would be judged by my entire record that determines that I have been a credit to the House and to my family, friends and supporters who have entrusted me with this honorable duty."

—This story was posted at 10:34 a.m. and updated at 2:50 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.