GOP turns up the heat on Rangel, calling on chairman to release tax records

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on Wednesday called on Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) to release his tax returns.

Issa also wants Democratic leaders to yank Rangel’s Ways and Means chairmanship if he refuses or if the returns show tax reporting violations.

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“Congressman, I’m asking you to release your tax returns,” Issa said in an interview with The Hill. “He’s got to resolve the difference on whether these are reporting errors on a financial disclosure form or whether he’s been filing false returns with the IRS.”

Issa, the ranking member of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, said reports that Rangel amended his House financial disclosure forms to show $650,000 in previously undisclosed assets for 2007 demonstrates a pattern of flagrant disregard for Congressional ethics rules and possibly more serious breaches if he followed the same pattern when filing his tax returns.

“There’s enough [failures to disclose assets] that it’s starting to look more like a pattern…the public has a right to know if he pays his taxes and if he has a pattern of not paying his taxes,” Issa said. “If he failed to file his taxes in any of these circumstances, he should not be allowed to be the chairman of the tax-writing committee.”

Democratic aides have said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) does not intend to strip Rangel of his gavel. Her office has publicly kept silent on her reaction to the recent revelations, but Democratic aides say she wants an ongoing ethics committee investigation into a series of Rangel’s financial lapses and alleged ethics violations to continue without any meddling from Democratic leaders.

She will only punish Rangel if the ethics committee finds him guilty of misconduct or a prosecutor files criminal charges against him, the aides said.

Pressure on Rangel has been building. The Buffalo News this week became the first paper in New York to call for Rangel to resign.

Rangel called for the ethics probe last summer after the first negative reports appeared that he had failed to report $75,000 worth of rental income on a beach villa he owned in the Dominican Republic on his financial disclosure forms.

In the months since, the ethics investigation has expanded several times as more financial irregularities and possible ethics breaches have surfaced.

Rangel is accused of maintaining three rent-stabilized apartments in New York, improperly using his congressional letterhead to solicit donations for a education center bearing his name, providing a legislative favor for one of the major donors to the center, claiming three homes as primary residences and failing to pay property taxes on two vacant parcels of land in New Jersey. He also attended a trip to the Caribbean that may have violated House rules because of corporate involvement.

Rangel has denied any wrongdoing and has attributed the financial lapses to sloppiness.

House financial disclosure reports only require lawmakers to report the value of their assets in broad ranges so it’s impossible to tally the exact total value of Rangel’s reported assets.

Issa and other critics have said Rangel’s problems are particularly notable because he is the chairman of the House committee that writes tax legislation.

“How can you make tax policy for 30 years and pretend you didn’t know the rules,” Issa said.

Income tax evasion is “every bit as bad” as the bribery charges former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) was convicted of back in 2006, Issa said. Cunningham is seving an eight year and four month sentence for accepting $2.4 million in bribes.

“It’s a violation for a high school drop-out who has a second home and doesn’t report the rental income on it and it’s an unconscionable criminal violation for the sitting chairman of the tax-writing committee,” Issa said of Rangel.

Critics have also zeroed in on a report in the New York Post that Rangel included broad new provisions cracking down on tax cheats in the healthcare bill that moved through his committee even as he is fending off accusations about his own failure to pay taxes and fully disclose his financial dealings.

The news that Rangel is trying to impose tougher penalties on individuals who file false tax reports while battling charges about his own financial irregularities will give Republicans more material to use against Rangel.

In February, the GOP introduced a resolution calling on Rangel to step down as chairman, which failed 242 to 157. It will also provide more fodder for a mock bill Republicans like to tout known as the “Rangel Rule Act of 2009.”

Rep. John Carter, a Texas Republican who spent two decades as a judge, wrote the bill. It would require the IRS to give average citizens a pass on any tax mistakes or omissions if they scrawl “Rangel Rule” on the top of their return.

Alexander Bolton contributed to this report


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