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What happened to presumption of innocence?

But I did not discontinue my immense admiration for Rangel’s courage, honor and integrity.

Note that I used the words “honor and integrity” about Charlie Rangel. To anyone who believes those words are inaccurate, I challenge you to cite a single instance in which Rangel has been found by a court of law or by the ethics committee to have engaged in any intentional misconduct or to have done anything that enriched himself personally.

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I am not suggesting that it is OK to violate House ethics rules even if there is no personal enrichment or legal violation. But that is a matter for the House ethics committee to decide — a completely nonpartisan body, split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans — not partisans, journalists or self-appointed ethics “watchdog” groups.

For example, one such group, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), recently declared Rangel to be one of the 15 most “corrupt” members of Congress, a word that strongly implies criminal conduct. This presumption of guilt — without due process, judge or jury — is all too reminiscent of the McCarthy era. They call themselves liberals. How so, when they ignore the basic and fundamental constitutional protection of due process and the presumption of innocence?

At a September 2008 press conference, Rangel admitted to inadvertent errors in not fully disclosing his assets and liabilities on the House financial disclosure forms and to not paying less than $10,000 of taxes owed over a 20-year period. He had already called for the House ethics committee to conduct an investigation of himself due to newspaper reports of possible violations. He called his errors careless and irresponsible, and apologized.

Of course, Rangel is subject to the legitimate question: Should someone who is that careless about his personal affairs be allowed to chair the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over all of the nation’s tax laws and the IRS?

Reasonable people can differ on the answer to that question. I personally do believe that Rangel has been an outstanding chairman of Ways and Means; witness his guiding through a crucial component of financing of the House version of national healthcare.

But the clear answer to the question of whether he should step aside comes down to the question: What are the rules, and are they being applied consistently?

The answer: There is no House rule requiring a member merely under investigation by the House ethics committee to step aside as a committee or subcommittee chairman.

Yet just last month, House Republicans introduced a resolution asking for Rangel to step down temporarily as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee during the pending ethics investigation — but did not ask the same of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), who remains ranking member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, even though he is under investigation for possible quid-pro-quo actions in return for campaign donations from defense contractors.

That is naked hypocrisy and double-standard partisanship by GOP House members — we all know it, and I suspect the Republicans who introduced and voted for that resolution know it, and know that we know that they know it.

Two years ago, Charlie Rangel wrote a great book with the title, And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since. He was referring to the day where he lay wounded in sub-zero temperatures, surrounded by the Chinese army, taking incoming shells and believing that his own death was imminent. He went on to lead 40 of his colleagues (in, it should be noted, a segregated all-black Army division) out of the trap to freedom, for which heroism he was awarded the Purple Heart for his wounds and the Bronze Star for his actions in the face of death.

It’s no wonder why you will see Rangel, now 79 years young and serving in his 28th year in the U.S. Congress, almost always smiling, even with all the incoming cheap shots he is taking from Republican partisans and sanctimonious “watchdogs.” I imagine he is thinking: Compared to that day in sub-zero temperatures in the trenches of North Korea, this is a day in the sun.