By Susan Crabtree and Jordan Fabian - 07/30/10 01:11 AM EDT
A House ethics committee on Thursday brought 13 charges against Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) as efforts to reach a settlement failed.
Rangel, who did not attend the hour-long meeting, fired back in a 32-page statement, claiming that ethics investigators overstepped their jurisdiction and trampled on his Constitutional rights.
“I think it’s safe to say that none of us enjoyed this assignment — no one wants to investigate their peers,” Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), who led the investigating panel that reported the charges, said before reciting the allegations against Rangel.
“This is truly a sad day when no one — regardless of their partisan stripes — should rejoice,” said Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the investigative subcommittee and the full ethics panel.
Rangel is accused of improperly using his office to solicit donations for a school of public policy in his name at the City College of New York (CCNY); of using a rent-stabilized apartment in Harlem for his campaign office; of failing to report more than $600,000 on his financial disclosure report; and of failing to pay taxes on rental income from a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic.
Rangel, tailed by reporters as he made his way to the House floor from his office, insisted he is innocent.
In his written statement submitted by his attorneys, Rangel said the investigative subcommittee that brought charges against him “acted beyond the scope of its authority” and did not give him enough time to provide a defense, violating the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause. He called their findings “deeply flawed.”
The 20-term lawmaker noted in his statement that he formally called on the ethics panel to dismiss his case in late June.
The ethics panel did not announce a date for the trial, but it is expected to begin in mid-September, less than two months before Democrats face an election where they could lose the House. Rangel faces a competitive primary on Sept. 14.
Reports of a possible deal circulated throughout the day Thursday, but panel members made it clear those efforts had failed as they announced the charges.
“We are now in the trial phase,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). Rangel had his opportunity to reach a deal during the panel’s investigatory phase, he said.
McCaul said the unanimous findings of the ethics panel, if proven, indicate that Rangel not only broke House rules, but federal statutes as well.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who chairs the ethics committee and will oversee the trial, said, “We live in a time where public skepticism about the institutions in our country is very high. It has been the goal of our ethics committee throughout this Congress to, by our actions, rebuild and earn trust by the public and our colleagues.”
Panel members detailed an exhaustive 21-month investigation.
Green said the subcommittee conducted approximately 50 depositions, issued more than 160 formal requests for documents, reviewed more than 28,000 pages of documents and testimony and held more than 60 meetings. The panel also met with Rangel three times, including one meeting in which he gave a deposition.
In regard to the Rangel Center at the CCNY, the panel found that Rangel violated the House gift ban as well as the federal statute prohibiting members from soliciting “anything of value” from a person “whose interests may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the [member’s] official duties,” according to the Statement of Alleged Violations (SAV).
In addition, the panel said, Rangel abused his congressional franking privilege by sending the letters through the House mail and broke rules against soliciting for charities in congressional buildings.
The investigation found that Rangel had become interested in creating an institution similar to a presidential library to preserve his legacy and first contacted CCNY’s president about the idea in late 2004. He also suggested, in his first letter to the president, that he was “exploring” ways to fund the center through congressional appropriations. One proposal, written by Rangel’s district director, estimated the cost as $30 million or $6 million each year for the next five years.
Rangel asked for $6 million and later secured a $445,000 earmark for the center in 2006.
In addition, in June 2005, Rangel sent letters on congressional letterhead to solicit the foundations of Verizon, New York Life, JPMorgan Chase, Citi, Ford, AT&T, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Wachovia and Bristol-Meyers Squibb for a gift of “$30 million or $6 million/year for five years” to help fund the proposed center.
He later used congressional letterhead to solicit meetings with Donald Trump and David Rockefeller regarding the center.
Several of the corporate foundations approved hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to the center under Rangel’s urging.
In August 2008, Rangel met with officials from insurance giant AIG, as well as an AIG lobbyist, the panel stated. A briefing memo prepared for Rangel by CCNY officials said the stated objective of the meeting was to “close $10M gift for the Rangel Center to create AIG Hall.”
During the meeting, AIG officials raised concerns about a potential donation, including the “headline risk,” according to the SAV.
“[Rangel] asked AIG, at least twice, what was necessary to get this done,” the panel wrote in the SAV.
Less than a month later, AIG, which later received $182 billion in federal bailout funds, lobbied Rangel for a tax provision that would save the company millions of dollars a year, the panel stated.
The panel also discovered unreported meetings between Eugene Isenberg, an executive of an oil-drilling company seeking a tax loophole, and Rangel about a $1 million contribution to the Rangel Center.
The New York Times previously reported that Isenberg and tax lobbyist Ken Kies met in February 2007 at the Carlyle Hotel in New York and discussed the tax break. The investigation also uncovered a 2006 meeting between Rangel, Isenberg and CCNY officials in the offices of New York
District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, a close friend of Rangel’s, and a June 2007 meeting between Rangel and Isenberg at Rangel’s office to discuss the tax issue.
In dealing with more than $600,000 in omissions from Rangel’s financial disclosure records, the panel found that he violated the Ethics in Government Act, which requires a “full and complete statement” on assets. Instead, the panel found that Rangel “engaged in a pattern of submitting financial disclosure statements that were incomplete and inaccurate” and failed to report numerous items required to be reported between 1998 and 2007.
The panel also said his amendments fixing the errors and omissions, which he filed last year, were “not timely.”
Rangel leased four rent-stabilized apartments at Lenox Terrace in Harlem, but the investigation singled out the use of one for his campaign office as violating the Code of Ethics for Government Service, which prohibits the acceptance of special favors based on one’s position as a member of Congress.
Because the terms of the lease stipulated that the apartment was “for living purposes only,” the panel considered Rangel’s use of it for campaign purposes a special favor.
By failing to report rental income on a beachfront villa in the Dominican Republic, the panel alleges that Rangel violated the Code of Government Ethics.
The investigative subcommittee also looked into whether Rangel broke House parking rules by storing his Mercedes there and found that the House Administration Committee was not enforcing the parking rules.
Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center said, “It is a relief to see the ethics committee taking these matters seriously and not simply sweeping this matter under the rug, as it has with other seemingly clear-cut violations of House ethics rules.”
—This story was originally posted at 12:09 p.m. and last updated at 9:11 p.m.