Ethics panel probes alleged Rangel quid pro quo

The House ethics committee is investigating an alleged quid pro quo between Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and an oil company executive, the subject of a lengthy New York Times article published in December.

Eugene Isenberg, the oil executive accused of trying to influence Rangel through a $1 million donation to the education center bearing Rangel's name, is cooperating with an ethics committee investigation into the matter and predicts that the panel will find no wrongdoing.

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“I have faith that the American justice system will reflect the actual facts of the situation, which the ethics committee was given,” said Isenberg, chief executive of Nabors Industries, an oil drilling company.

The assertion was caught on tape during a conversation with Peter Flaherty of the National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative watchdog that has investigated several ethics stories about Rangel. Flaherty approached Isenberg at the company’s annual meeting in Houston last week, taped the conversation and provided The Hill a transcript and audio recording.

Isenberg also called the New York Times story “total malarkey” and said he would “guarantee” that the ethics committee would find that the Times was “demonstrably wrong in their conclusions and implications.”

“The ethics committee will, I guarantee you, will get through that,” Isenberg stated.

“You guarantee it?” Flaherty asked.

“Yep,” Isenberg responded.

“You have some inside information?” Flaherty asked.

“No, except I know what questions were asked and what information was provided, which I’m not supposed to discuss and therefore I won’t,” he said.

The Times story alleges that Rangel was instrumental in preserving a lucrative tax loophole that benefited Isenberg’s company, while at the same time Isenberg was pledging $1 million to the Charles B. Rangel School of Public Service at City College of New York.

Part of the story describes a meeting between Rangel, Isenberg and Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau at the Carlyle Hotel in February 2007. The Times article says there were actually two meetings, the first in which the three discussed Isenberg’s support for the Rangel Center at the breakfast and a second involving Ken Kies, Isenberg and Rangel, in which Kies asked Rangel about the legislation affecting Isenberg’s company and whether he still opposed it.

Kies and Isenberg argue the first meeting never took place and that Rangel only met briefly with Isenberg and Kies at the hotel after having breakfast with Morgenthau. At that meeting, they acknowledge discussing the legislation and Rangel’s opposition to it, but not the donation to the Rangel Center.

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The Times has stood by the story, publishing a 1,100-word defense to a letter Kies wrote arguing that the report contained errors. In that response, the paper said the reporting about the two meetings and otherwise was all based on on-the-record interviews with Rangel, Isenberg and Kies.

At the time the story was published Isenberg had written checks for only $200,000 of the pledge to the Rangel Center, a gift he said he made months before the February meeting. He told Flaherty, however, that he has paid a total of $400,000 so far.

When asked if Isenberg was planning on paying the $600,000 he still owed to make good on the initial $1 million pledge, he assured Flaherty he would.

“Why shouldn’t I, if I made a pledge?”

Isenberg maintains that there was no quid pro quo and no wrongdoing in making the pledge to the Rangel Center.

Rangel’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Isenberg responded and referred comments to his general counsel.