Rep. Rangel expects Democratic leaders to help with his growing legal bills

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) expects Democratic leaders to help pay his legal bills, but that appears unlikely.

Several times during his meandering 37-minute speech on the House floor on Tuesday, Rangel complained about the mounting costs of defending himself against a two-year ethics investigation. He claims the bill has already reached $2 million.

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At one point during the remarks, he said his main attorney on his legal team has said she might be able to continue working on a pro bono basis. He also said he “expects” Democratic leaders to help him pay his legal bills.

“So my lawyer — I can understand how financially this thing can go on longer than I can afford — but she is willing to assist me in working out something in pro bono, and I'll expect the leadership to help me,” Rangel said. 

His lead attorney, Leslie Kiernan, a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder, did not return a request for comment about potential pro bono work.

Rangel's comment had Democratic leadership aides scratching their heads.

A spokesman for Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Assistant to the Speaker, said leaders are focused on helping endangered Democrats get reelected, not helping Rangel pay his legal fees.

“I would anticipate that most of the leadership’s focus is going to be on supporting vulnerable Democrats this cycle,” said the spokesman.

Spokesmen for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) declined to comment.

Rangel is allowed to spend campaign funds on his legal bills. Most of the more than $2 million he has raised this cycle has been directed toward legal expenses. As of June 30, Rangel had more than $516,000 cash on hand. Rangel is also spending campaign money to win his Sept. 14 Democratic primary.

A poll released last month that was taken before the charges against Rangel were made public showed Rangel with 39 percent of the vote and 21 percent backing New York assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV.

Democratic leaders attempted to persuade Rangel not to deliver his speech on Tuesday, according to a Democratic lawmaker who requested anonymity.

Leadership officials were not pleased with the speech, saying it distracted from the passage of their $26 billion education and Medicaid bill.

Pelosi at press time issued a statement on the Rangel case, reiterating that the ethics process is reviewing the matter. 

—This story was updated at 10:15 a.m.