House panel charges Rangel with ethics misdeeds

WASHINGTON (AP) – A House investigative committee on Thursday charged New York Rep. Charles Rangel with multiple ethics violations, dealing a serious blow to the former Ways and Means chairman and complicating Democrats’ election-year outlook.

The House ethics committee won’t reveal the specific charges until next Thursday in a public meeting. However, sources familiar with the allegations, who were not authorized to discuss them publicly, said the charges against the 40-year Democrat were related to:

-Rangel’s use of official stationery to raise money for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York.

-His use of four rent-subsidized apartment units in New York City. The city’s rent stabilization program is supposed to apply to one’s primary residence. One had been used as a campaign office, raising a separate question of whether the rent break was an improper gift.

-Rangel’s failure to report income as required on his annual financial disclosure forms. The committee had investigated his failure to report income from the lawmaker’s rental unit at the Punta Cana Yacht Club in the Dominican Republic. Rangel also belatedly disclosed hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment assets.

The charges by a four-member panel of the House ethics committee sends the case to a House trial. A separate panel of four Republicans and four Democrats will decide whether the violations can be proved by clear and convincing evidence.

Sanctions can range from a damaging committee report to censure by the House and even expulsion, a punishment reserved for only the most egregious violations.

The timing of the announcement ensures that a public airing of Rangel’s ethical woes will stretch into the fall campaign, and Republicans are certain to make it an issue as they try to capture majority control of the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi had once promised to “drain the swamp” of ethical misdeeds by lawmakers in arguing that Democrats should be in charge.

Rangel, who is tied for fourth in House seniority, told reporters that he believes the allegations have no substance and said, “I look forward to airing this thing.”

“If you ask me how I feel about it, I feel extraordinarily good that my supporters over 40 years will be able to evaluate what they have come up with and I don’t have any fear at all politically or personally what they come up with,” he said.

In a written statement, Rangel said, “I am pleased that, at long last, sunshine will pierce the cloud of serious allegations that have been raised against me in the media.”

Rangel was in negotiations to settle the case, said one person who was familiar with the talks but was not authorized to be quoted by name. The talks broke down when Rangel only agreed to accept some of the alleged violations, and that didn’t satisfy the ethics committee, the person said.

His trial could begin around the time of his mid-September primary. While Rangel is a legend in New York’s Harlem, elected 20 times, other Democrats are in close races and not looking forward to defending their party’s ethical conduct.

Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said, “The action today would indicate that the independent, bipartisan ethics committee process is moving forward.”

Republicans immediately seized on the case. House GOP leader John Boehner said the charges were “a sad reminder of Speaker Pelosi’s most glaring broken promise: to drain the swamp in Washington.”

Rangel led the tax-writing Ways and Means panel until he stepped aside last March after the ethics committee criticized him in a separate case – finding that he should have known corporate money was paying for his trips to two Caribbean conferences.

Rangel had hoped to regain his chairmanship, but the allegations make that virtually impossible this year.

He recently announced a bid for a 21st term, days before his 80th birthday. One of his Sept. 14 primary opponents is Adam Clayton Powell IV, son of the congressman whom Rangel defeated in 1970.

While the case will generate unfavorable headlines for Rangel, it may have little effect in his congressional district, where he has been a Harlem political leader for decades and is known by older constituents as a Korean War hero.

“He keeps ethics on Page 1 and Democrats, going into a tough election cycle, aren’t eager to carry any liabilities beyond what they have,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College poll.

“But I think it has less to do – barring any major undoing of his legislative career – with his seat,” Miringoff said.

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