By Susan Crabtree - 10/09/09 12:15 AM EDT
The House ethics committee voted unanimously Thursday to expand the investigation into Rep. Charles Rangel’s (D-N.Y.) alleged financial irregularities.
The panel broadened the jurisdiction of its probe to include amendments he made in August to his financial disclosure records showing at least $600,000 in previously unreported assets, according to an ethics committee statement.
“As a practical matter, today’s announcement is nothing new,” said his spokesman. “Today’s action by the committee is a technicality, as everything they referenced in today’s announcement has already been subject to ongoing review by the ethics committee and its staff. It is clear that the committee is being very thorough and deliberative in their process, hence today’s announcement.”
The committee also is reviewing Rangel’s alleged misuse of the House garage. Last year the New York Post reported that for years Rangel had been using a House of Representatives garage for free storage space for his old Mercedes-Benz, a potential violation of House rules.
After the story appeared, Rangel removed the car from the garage.
In August, it was discovered that the Mercedes again was located in the House parking lot and Rangel had to be asked to remove it by parking officials, according to knowledgeable House sources.
Though hardly the worst of Rangel’s worries, the move shocked some Democratic and Republican aides, who say it demonstrated Rangel’s audacity in flouting House rules.
His press office failed to return repeated inquiries in recent weeks about the parking incident.
Rangel initiated the ethics probe last summer after news outlets reported that he had failed to report $75,000 in rental income on a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic. He has attributed a series of financial irregularities and alleged ethics violations to mere sloppiness, and nothing malicious.
The Hill in late August first reported the expected ethics committee expansion of the Rangel probe, but it was expected to be a tough sell for some Democratic members of the ethics committee. Those members relented and agreed to expand the probe Thursday, according to knowledgeable sources.
This is the third time the ethics committee has expanded its Rangel probe. The panel has been investigating multiple allegations against Rangel for more than a year and has been criticized for dragging its feet. The panel, however, has been understaffed and just hired five attorneys and one senior investigator in late July.
In its release about the expansion of the probe, the ethics committee highlighted all the work it has done in the Rangel matter thus far, including issuing close to 150 subpoenas and interviewing approximately 34 witnesses, resulting in more than 2,100 pages of transcripts.
It also reviewed and analyzed more than 12,000 pages of documents and held more than 30 investigative subcommittee meetings.
“The committee’s confidentiality rules restrict the disclosure of information under consideration by the investigative subcommittee, and we therefore will not comment further on this matter at this time,” the release said.
The ethics committee announcement came one day after the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) flexed its political muscle by sending a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) defending Rangel from partisan attacks.
In a partisan vote of 246-153, the House referred the GOP resolution to the ethics committee, effectively killing it.
“As members of the Congressional Black Caucus, we support our colleague, Charlie Rangel, chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, and condemn partisan attempts to ignore the well-established, bipartisan ethics process,” the members of the CBC wrote.
The letter was designed to demonstrate the sheer magnitude of Rangel’s support among one of the most powerful Democratic factions in the House.
Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) argued that the expanded investigation demonstrates the need for Rangel to resign the chairmanship while the panel continues to deliberate.
“Given the expanded investigation announced today, it is past time for Speaker Pelosi to insist that Chairman Rangel step aside until the ethics committee completes its work,” Boehner said in a statement. “The American people won’t stand for having a chairman of the House’s tax-writing committee who is under investigation for not paying his taxes. What more has to happen before Speaker Pelosi does the right thing?”
After hearing about the expansion, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a member of the CBC, questioned its timing, coming as it did one day after Democratic leaders were forced to deal with the GOP Rangel resolution publicly.
“The worst thing the committee can do is look like it’s caving to Republican pressure,” he said. “This should have been one of the times when it would have been wise for the committee to hold off and act later — like even next week — just to avoid an appearance problem.”