By Susan Crabtree - 10/07/10 09:38 PM EDT
Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) won't face public ethics trials until after the election.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who chairs the panel, made the decision unilaterally after Republicans publicly balked last week about the delay in setting the schedule and argued the trials should be held before the November midterms.
Both lawmakers are accused of breaking multiple House ethics rules and have chosen to fight the charges in public trials.
Waters said she welcomed the trial and wished it could have taken place before the election.
“After an investigation that has lasted over a year, I am eager to have the opportunity to clear my name,” she said in a written statement. “I would have liked for this matter to be resolved before the election in November and have repeatedly called for a hearing to be scheduled as soon as possible.”
Rangel did not immediately provide comment.
In announcing her decision, Lofgren referred to the “unprecedented” statement Republican members on the committee made last week criticizing the delay in releasing the schedule. Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the panel, and the committee's four other GOP members accused Lofgren and committee Democrats of purposely “stalling” the resolution of the Rangel and Waters matters.
“Last week’s unprecedented statement by the minority members of the Committee, in contrast to their prior requests and ongoing discussions, called upon the Chair to unilaterally establish the schedule, as the Committee rules allow,” Lofgren wrote.
“Accordingly, as Chair of each adjudicatory subcommittee, with this statement I am announcing the schedule for each hearing and notifying Representatives Rangel and Waters and their respective counsels of the schedules and other procedural issues,” her statement said.
Lofgren didn’t provide an explanation for the delay, saying only that the ethics committee staff needs ample time to prepare their case before a trial can occur. Democratic leaders, however, have been frustrated by Rangel’s and Waters’s refusal to accept a punishment and admit wrongdoing, instead opting for public trials amid a critical midterm election season.
“Substantial actions must be taken before a public hearing can begin,” Lofgren wrote. “The nonpartisan committee staff who bear the burden of proof to establish the facts alleged in the Statement of Alleged Violation must prepare their case and be prepared to meet a higher burden of proof than that used in the investigative subcommittee phase.”
In his public statement, Bonner laid the blame for the delay at Lofgren’s feet.
“After months of trial preparation — and, in the Rangel matter, two years of investigation — Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren should have already issued notices of public trial schedules in both the Rangel and Waters matters,” Bonner said in his statement.
He also said members have “repeatedly” expressed their willingness to meet in October to hold the trials and noted that in the past, committee members have returned to Washington to conclude “pressing” ethics issues.
The statements from Republicans and the decision by Lofgren to act alone in scheduling the hearings reflect the growing partisan tensions that have divided the ethics panel in recent months. In the past few years, Bonner and Lofgren have openly touted their ability to work together and find common ground on thorny ethics issues.
Lofgren laid out some procedural rules for the trials in her statement. She noted, for instance, that evidence to be used at the hearing must be shared between lawyers for the committee and the lawmaker facing the ethics charges. Objections, as well as other procedural or evidentiary issues, raised by either party must be resolved before the hearing.
Committee rules also require subpoenas issued to witnesses to be served “sufficiently in advance of the hearing” to allow witnesses reasonable time to prepare.
After the trial is over, the full ethics committee will hold a public sanctions hearing if any violation is found and vote on a sanction recommendation.
The House Ethics Committee in July accused Rangel of 13 ethics violations related to his failure to pay taxes on rental income on a villa in the Dominican Republic, use of Congressional letterhead to solicit donations for the Charles B. Rangel Center at City College of New York, and use of four rent-controlled apartments.
Later that same month, the committee revealed three charges against Waters in connection with a bank affiliated with her husband.
Waters has vigorously defended herself against the charges and this summer held a lengthy press conference, complete with a power-point presentation, to present her side of the story and answer questions.
“I will defend myself vigorously because I have not violated any House rules, and I will not allow anyone to suggest my life’s work has been motivated by anything other than the public interest,” she pledged.
“The facts and the evidence are on my side: No benefit, no improper action, no failure to disclose, no one influenced: no case.”