Rangel sues Boehner seeking to overturn House Ethics censure

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) is suing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and six other lawmakers, charging the ethics investigation that led to his public censure in late 2010 was mishandled.

In a complaint filed Monday in federal court in Washington D.C., Rangel claims the Ethics Committee that investigated his alleged wrongdoing is guilty of “numerous flagrant, knowing and intentional violations” of his due process rights.

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House members who approved his censure were “knowingly deceived” by the committee leaders — including then-Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and ranking member Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) — into thinking that the probe “had been conducted in accordance with procedural rules and the protection of [Rangel’s] constitutional rights,” the complaint adds.

The other lawmakers named in the suit are Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Mike Conaway (R-Texas), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and Gregg Harper (R-Miss.). Conaway and Dent were also members of the Ethics Committee behind the investigation. Conaway is the current chairman of the ethics committee.

Rangel was the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee in March 2010 when a series of mounting ethics charges — as well as pressure from fellow Democrats — forced him to step down. He was replaced by Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), who remains the top Democrat on the panel.

A House GOP aide was quick to dismiss the suit on Monday.

“The House overwhelmingly voted to censure then-Chairman Rangel by a bipartisan vote of 333-79,” the aide said. “It’s sad that he has resorted to such tactics in the face of damning evidence.”

Rangel’s office declined to comment, deflecting questions to the lawyers handling the case.

Rangel’s lawyer, New York attorney Jay Goldberg, argues that Rangel’s reputation has been and will continue to be tarnished because of the House censure.

“[Rangel] has suffered and will continue to suffer injury in fact, which is fairly and directly traceable to the imposed action. The injury will likely be redressed by a favorable decision of this court,” according to the complaint.

In one of his toughest elections to date, the 22-term Rangel narrowly fended off State Sen. Adriano Espaillat in his primary race last year, winning the overwhelmingly Democratic district by less than 1,000 votes. The ethics charges and House censure were extensively used as attacks against Rangel during the bitter race.

Rangel’s lawyer also states that the Harlem lawmaker’s due process rights were violated under the Constitution and that the U.S. District Court of D.C. has a responsibility to decide on the case.

“The court cannot, under the circumstances described above, leave undisturbed and without adequate remedy, a plaintiff who has been knowingly, intentionally and willfully denied his right to due process, the protection of his other fundamental rights and his protected liberty interest, where the House has been purposefully misled as described herein: he must have this court to repair to, in order to vindicate his constitutional rights,” Rangel's complaint states.

The complaint cites several emails to Lofgren from R. Blake Chisam, the former chief counsel of the ethics panel — then known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct — claiming that two staff attorneys conducting the Rangel investigation withheld information and broke other rules that might have led to a different verdict. 

“The suppressed material would probably have led to a different outcome,” the complaint said. 

In one of the emails, Chisam cited “significant errors” by the two staffers — Deputy Chief Counsel C. Morgan Kim and Counsel Stacey Sovereign — which he feared could “cast doubt about the legitimacy of the Committee’s proceedings.” Among those infractions, Chisam cited “impermissible ... communication with Republican staff and Members of the Committee.” 

Chisam also told Lofgren there were “strong indications” that Kim and Sovereign “were accessing the computers of other staff.” 

Chisam, Kim and Sovereign are all named as defendants in the suit, as is Karen L. Haas, the House clerk. 

Rangel was censured on the House floor in December 2010 after the ethics panel found him guilty of 11 charges related to his conduct outside the Capitol. The violations included the solicitation of donations for a namesake community center from donors with business before his Ways and Means Committee, the submission of incomplete financial disclosure statements and the improper use of congressional letterhead to request donations. 

—This story was updated at 9:33 a.m. on April 23.

— Daniel Strauss and Jordy Yager contributed to this report.