By Susan Crabtree and Molly K. Hooper - 07/23/10 12:44 AM EDT
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) will stand trial on ethics charges after a House panel accused him Thursday of multiple violations.
The veteran lawmaker will challenge the findings in an open hearing.
The House ethics committee stated it has launched a separate panel, called an adjudicatory subcommittee, in the wake of unspecified findings by a four-member panel of the ethics committee that Rangel violated House rules.
The adjudicatory subcommittee, a separate eight-member panel tasked with trying Rangel on the charges, will hold a public organizational meeting July 29.
A visibly frustrated Rangel on Thursday afternoon told The Hill that he did not know what the “alleged violations are finally going to be.”
Less than two hours before the committee posted its statement on the website, Rangel was seen on the House floor on the GOP side of the aisle, engaged in a five-minute conversation with the head of the ethics panel, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who will chair the adjudicatory subcommittee.
The normally loquacious senior New York lawmaker said he was not supposed to reveal the details of the discussion.
“I am not really informed as to what is confidential and what is not, except they encourage me not to talk to the press about what they are doing,” Rangel said. “Even as you and I talk, I have no idea as to what the alleged violations are finally going to be.”
While Rangel is unlikely to testify at next Thursday’s organizational meeting of the ethics subcommittee, the New York Democrat told reporters he would attend the forum.
Rangel is facing a competitive and crowded primary on Sept. 14. In a poll released this week, Rangel attracted 39 percent of the vote, followed by State Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV with 21 percent.
In all likelihood, Rangel’s trial will not start before his primary.
House ethics committee rules prohibit the committee from acting 30 days before a primary and 60 days before an election.
The House ethics rules also ensure that Rangel and his team of lawyers will have at least 15 days to review the allegations against him before the trial begins.
In a statement issued Thursday evening, Rangel said, “I was notified today, two years after I requested an investigation, that the ethics committee will refer the allegations reviewed by an investigations subcommittee to a subcommittee that will review the facts.
“I am pleased that, at long last, sunshine will pierce the cloud of serious allegations that have been raised against me in the media.
“I will be glad to respond to the allegations at such time as the ethics committee makes them public.”
In order for the committee to move forward with the trial, Rangel had to waive his rights to settle and accept the ethics committee punishment, according to ethics committee rules governing the trial process. Sources told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that Rangel's attorney and the committee had failed to reach a settlement, which would have required an admission from Rangel that he broke ethics rules.
Public trials for ethics violations are rare and usually involve serious allegations against members, including censure and removal from office.
The last such trial for a member occurred in 2002 when Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio) contested findings that he accepted bribes. The House subsequently voted to expel Traficant from the lower chamber. He later served seven years in prison.
Ken Spain, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said, “This is troubling news not only for Congressman Rangel, but for his most ardent defender — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. For over two years, the Charlie Rangel saga dragged on while Speaker Pelosi not only sat idly by, but encouraged her members to vote against an investigation into the deeply troubling matters at hand. It appears that Charlie Rangel will finally be judged by a jury of his peers, but unfortunately for the Speaker, the verdict is already out on what she promised would be the ‘most ethical Congress in history.’ “
Democrats note that Pelosi was instrumental in convincing Rangel to step aside as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. They also point out that she took on the Congressional Black Caucus in ousting then-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) from the influential panel in 2006 in the wake of revelations Jefferson was being investigated by the FBI. Jefferson has since been convicted.
The ethics committee statement was released as the trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) is wrapping up. Republican operatives are very pleased that Rangel and Blagojevich are attracting headlines nearly 100 days before the midterm elections.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) called for the former Ways and Means Committee chairman to resign.
“Today’s action demonstrates that the notoriously lax ethics committee has found substantial reason to believe that Rep. Rangel has violated federal law, House rules or both,” said Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director. “Now the question is whether Rep. Rangel will resign or endure a public trial that promises to be filled with detailed and undoubtedly embarrassing revelations of wrongdoing.
“Rep. Rangel has toughed it out as long as he could — the time clearly has come for him to resign. He can no longer effectively represent the citizens of New York,” she added.
Rangel stepped down as chairman of the tax-writing panel in March after the House ethics committee admonished him in a case involving corporate-sponsored travel to the Caribbean.
The formation of the adjudicatory committee comes after the investigative subcommittee, which spent more than two years looking into several allegations against Rangel, submitted its findings to the full ethics panel Thursday.
The investigative subcommittee submitted a “statement of alleged violation and related motions and replies” to the chairman and ranking member on Thursday.
The probe was prompted after Rangel admitted failing to pay taxes on the rent of a Dominican Republic villa he owns, among several other allegations.
This story was updated at 5:23 p.m., 6:31 p.m. and 8:44 p.m.