Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) is ready to lay out his case to the public and thinks he can win, barring a last-minute deal in his showdown with the House ethics committee.
“[Thursday] is D-Day and he’s digging in for a fight,” a member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) said. “He has 40 years invested in this place, and he’s not about to go out this way if he can help it.”
Rangel said as much himself this week as his lawyers negotiated with ethics committee aides over a settlement that could allow him and his party to avoid a high-profile public trail. Rangel has called the ethics committee action against him a “public lynching” and insisted he would rather tell his side of the story than admit guilt.
After delivering a defiant but upbeat lunchtime speech to the Urban League on Wednesday, Rangel told a throng of reporters trailing his every move that it would be a relief to finally tell his side of the story.
“Believe me, as pleasant as it may be tomorrow … there is some sense of relief that at long last I can talk about it,” Rangel said.
Rangel is well-aware that the timing of a public trial — which would likely begin right after his Sept. 14 primary — could play to his advantage. The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s three-day Annual Legislative Conference begins Sept. 15 and could draw thousands of longtime Rangel supporters who could swarm Capitol Hill, pack the hearing room and even hold a rally to support him, one CBC member said.
On at least some of the charges, which will be revealed publicly Thursday morning, Rangel believes he has a strong case. For instance, he has told CBC members that he paid fair market value for the condos he has rented in Harlem, despite charges that he broke New York City rent-subsidy laws.
One CBC member noted that Rangel’s condos are in the oldest part of the complex and actually have decreased in value in the past few years.
Rangel’s explanation is far less clear for the other allegations he may face from the committee: that he failed to report rental income from a Caribbean beach rental, that he used congressional letterhead to solicit donations for the Charles B. Rangel Center at City College of New York and that he failed to report more than $500,000 in assets on his required financial disclosure forms, then later amended them.
Sources told The Hill that the main sticking point in the negotiations to settle the ethics charges is whether any of the alleged violations were intentional or simply a result of sloppy bookkeeping. Rangel and his attorneys know that intent is critical in any criminal case that could be brought against him.
Rangel’s speech at the Urban League on Wednesday appeared to serve a dual role. At times, he seemed to be speaking about his own plight as well as that of all black Americans when he stressed the importance of “ensuring justice and fairness” for all.
“Whether it’s personal or political, we all know that life is not a crystal sphere,” Rangel said. “But we can’t give up.”
As settlement negotiations continued behind the scenes, House Democratic leaders were merely monitoring developments from afar, according to senior aides.
Top House Democrats avoided the topic altogether throughout the day Wednesday, holding only tightly controlled press conferences celebrating Social Security's 75th anniversary and trumpeting the next pieces of their “Make it in America” jobs agenda.
From their perspective, senior aides said, any of the possible scenarios — a settlement, Rangel's resignation or his decision to go ahead and begin the process of defending himself on Thursday — were acceptable.
A senior Democratic aide said Rangel was likely discussing his options with a small group of friends within the Democratic Caucus as his lawyers continued to talk to opposing counsel on the ethics committee.
But the New York Democrat was not openly consulting with House leaders, aides said.
The Democratic Caucus met Wednesday morning for the second time in two days, again without discussing Rangel's ethics charges and potential trial.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the CBC and one of the most forceful advocates for allowing Rangel to defend himself, left Wednesday morning's caucus meeting saying the issue wasn't broached at all.
Asked if Rangel has addressed the Democratic Caucus yet about his charges, Lee said, “Not to my knowledge.”
Senior aides later confirmed that Rangel has not spoken to the caucus, nor had the caucus met to discuss Rangel.
But Rangel certainly wasn't hiding. When the House began its first series of votes late Wednesday afternoon, Rangel took a seat in the first row and held court as a number of his Black Caucus and New York colleagues, as well as a few other members, came to see him.