WASHINGTON – Rep. Charles Rangel, who has spent half of his 80 years as a member of Congress, says he looks forward to fighting ethics charges. Other Democrats won't be so pleased.
The ethics trial sought by the New York congressman and former Ways and Means Committee chairman will coincide with campaign season. Democrats will have to defend their party's conduct. If enough of them lose, the party could cede control of the House.
Republicans are already going negative, reminding voters that Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to "drain the swamp" of ethical misdeeds in Congress.
Rangel had a choice.
His lawyer had been negotiating with the House ethics committee to settle his case. But to end it, Rangel would have had to accept the allegations. Rangel had been willing to accept some, but that didn't satisfy the committee, according to a person familiar with the talks but not authorized to be quoted by name.
"I look forward to airing this thing," Rangel, who is tied for fourth in House seniority, told reporters Thursday, insisting the allegations against him have no substance.
"I am pleased that, at long last, sunshine will pierce the cloud of serious allegations that have been raised against me in the media," he said.
It was disclosed Thursday that Rangel is being charged with multiple ethics violations. The ethics committee won't reveal the specific charges until next Thursday at a public meeting. However, several persons familiar with the allegations, who were not authorized to discuss them publicly, said some of the charges against Rangel, who has spent 40 years in Congress, 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.
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.
Ironically, Rangel raised money for scores of Democratic candidates before his ethics problems surfaced. Now, many Democrats wouldn't touch a contribution from Rangel's leadership fund and might pressure him to accept the charges or even get out of his re-election race.
Some officials in Rangel's hometown voiced their support. And one analyst said the allegations are likely to change little for Rangel, who is running for re-election in the fall.
"They make jokes about people who are so popular they wouldn't lose an election even if they were indicted," said Lawrence Levy, a political commentator and head of Hofstra University's National Center on Suburban Studies. "Charlie is so popular it probably won't have much effect on him."
"The process is going forward," said state Assemblyman Keith Wright, a Democrat representing Harlem. "I'm going to tell you what I'm going to tell him: Stay strong, keep your head up. The community of Harlem is behind you."
In an interview with NY1, H. Carl McCall, a former state comptroller, said he doesn't expect Rangel to have any problem winning a 21st term.
"We have to look at this man and what he has done for so many New Yorkers," McCall said. "Charlie has continued to play a leading role in every major issue in the Congress and will continue to do so."
Rangel announced a bid for his 21st term recently, shortly before his 80th birthday. To many in his famed Harlem district of New York City, Rangel is the only congressman they've known. Older constituents remember him as a Korean War hero with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
"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.
Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said the action taken against Rangel "would indicate that the independent, bipartisan ethics committee process is moving forward."
The last time a Rangel ethics case moved forward, the ethics committee concluded earlier this year that the lawmaker violated House rules on two trips to Caribbean conferences. The committee said Rangel should have known that corporate money paid for the trips.
Rangel, still chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee at the time, initially said he wouldn't step down from his post. After a closed-door meeting with Pelosi while reporters waited outside, Rangel changed his mind. He stepped aside from a chairmanship he may never get back, because of concerns that staying in the position would hurt other Democrats.
This time, he decided to fight on.