WASHINGTON – The leader of the Congressional Black Caucus warned fellow Democrats on Monday against rushing to judgment and pressuring New York Democrat Charles Rangel to admit ethical misdeeds.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said members of both parties should not presume Rangel's guilt. However, her message is aimed at Democrats who may want Rangel to admit to the allegations against him to avoid an election-season ethics trial.
The strong statement makes it unlikely that the House Democratic leadership would act against Rangel and risk losing support of the 42-member Black Caucus for legislative initiatives.
A House investigative panel last week announced that it was charging Rangel with unspecified violations of standards of conduct. The charges will be publicly read Thursday at the first proceeding of a separate panel of four Democrats and four Republicans. The eight lawmakers will judge whether the allegations can be proved by clear and convincing evidence.
Lee said in a written statement: "Any rush to judgment to short-circuit the ongoing review of Congressman Rangel by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct will do a disservice to the well-established processes of the House of Representatives. Attempts by Republicans and Democrats to presume guilt before the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct completes its review of the facts, which are only known to them and Congressman Rangel, violates the core American principle of the presumption of innocence."
Rangel is the former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He stepped down from the post last March after the ethics committee found he should have known that corporations paid for two trips to Caribbean conferences.
He has been the congressman representing Harlem for some 40 years, but he has opposition in his mid-September primary.
Several Democrats have returned money Rangel raised for them. Democrats are concerned about an ethics trial while they are campaigning for re-election and while the party faces a serious Republican challenge to the Democratic majority.
On Friday a member of the Black Caucus, Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., compared a rush to judgment on Rangel with the Democrats' embarrassment over the forced resignation of an Agriculture Department employee, Shirley Sherrod.
The resignation followed a misleading video posted by a conservative blogger, in which Sherrod said she didn't initially give a white farmer as much help as she could have 24 years ago. President Barack Obama and others in the administration have since apologized, saying they didn't realize the video took her remarks out of context.
"Haven't we learned anything this week about jumping to conclusions? The railroading of Shirley Sherrod at USDA should be a lesson learned about hasty judgment and action based on inadequate, even false, information," Fattah said. "That lesson must be applied to current case of Congressman Charlie Rangel."
People familiar with the allegations against Rangel, who cannot be named because the allegations are not yet public, said some of the charges are 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.
_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.
_His failure to pay taxes on all his income from the resort unit.
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