Charges Against Rangel Unveiled After Efforts to Reach Settlement Fail

Paul Kane, Ben Pershing and William Branigin, Washington Post, July 29, 2010

The House ethics committee formally unveiled charges Thursday against Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) after efforts to reach a settlement apparently fell short, setting in motion a potentially historic trial of the 20-term congressman.

In a preliminary hearing on the case, a subcommittee disclosed 13 charges that lawmakers described as “very serious” violations of House rules and federal law. Rangel did not appear at the hearing–his presence was not required–but he submitted a written statement.

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In an opening statement as the hearing began Thursday afternoon, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) noted that there had been talk of negotiations on a settlement.

“Mr. Rangel . . . was given opportunities to negotiate a settlement under the investigation phase,” he said. “We are now in the trial phase.” He said Rangel faces “13 very serious allegations” relating to his conduct.

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In a 32-page rebuttal, Rangel’s legal team denied the allegations, asserting that he never misused his office.

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The hearing’s start was delayed an hour by votes on the House floor, during which Rangel huddled on the Democratic side with members of the New York delegation and a few other close supporters.

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With his 40-year congressional legacy hanging in the balance, lawyers for the former chairman of the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee negotiated with the nonpartisan attorneys for the committee until late Wednesday and continued the discussions Thursday morning, hoping to reach a settlement.

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The 13 counts included those allegations, plus charges that Rangel violated the code of providing faithful government services, House rules on soliciting donations and franking rules. He was also accused of multiple violations of a ban on receiving gifts.

Specifically, the investigative subcommittee found that Rangel broke multiple House rules in his efforts to create and fund the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York, including provisions governing gifts to members and use of official resources for unofficial activities. The probe showed that Rangel frequently solicited donations from lobbyists and companies with interests before his Ways and Means Committee.

The ethics panel reported that Rangel asked his congressional staff to produce “a list of potential donors to the Rangel Center. The work was done on property of the House of Representatives, on official House time and with the use of official House resources.” Rangel also sent letters on congressional letterhead to potential donors, along with a brochure requesting a gift of $30 million, or $6 million per year for five years.

The report also outlines Rangel’s dealings with Eugene Isenberg, the chief executive of Nabors Industries. Isenberg and his company pledged a combined $1 million to the Rangel Center, the subcommittee said, and in subsequent meetings Isenberg and Rangel discussed “the retroactivity of tax provisions related to inverted companies”–a change in tax laws that would benefit Nabors.

In April 2008, Rangel met with officials from insurance giant AIG in hopes of soliciting a $10 million donation to create “AIG Hall” at the Rangel Center. AIG officials expressed misgivings about the publicity that might accompany such a donation, according to the report.

The subcommittee found that Rangel’s personal financial disclosure forms “contained numerous errors and omissions” over the course of several years, including understating or failing to disclose rental income and unearned income.

Rangel owned a brownstone on West 132nd Street in Manhattan from which he failed to disclose rental income for several years before selling it in 2004, the panel said. It said Rangel also failed to report rental income over several years from a villa he owned in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. He omitted mention of “vacant lots” he owned in New Jersey, and he did not report several transactions in his retirement accounts, according to the report.

Taken together, the omissions and errors represented multiple violations of the Ethics in Government Act, which requires members to give a “full and complete picture” of their finances each year, the subcommittee alleged.

The investigators reported that Rangel signed a lease for a rent-stabilized apartment in 1996–he already had three apartments in the same Harlem building, which he used as living quarters–by saying that his son, Steven Rangel, would live there.

But Steven Rangel never moved in, and the elder Rangel instead used the fourth apartment as an office for his reelection campaign and political action committee, in violation of the terms of the lease, according to the report.

The subcommittee noted that when building managers sued some tenants for improperly subletting their apartments, Rangel was put on a “special handling list” as a member of Congress, and no action was taken against him.

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Thursday’s hearing effectively served as an arraignment, in which the prosecution–a four-member team that was the investigative subcommittee–presented the charges against Rangel and publicly released a full report outlining the case. If necessary, a full trial would be held in mid-September, after Congress returns from a nearly seven-week recess.

During Wednesday evening votes, Rangel brushed past reporters, declining to address the status of talks with his legal team. He told reporters that if he had reason to meet with them, he would. Late Wednesday, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), a politically vulnerable freshman, told Politico she would call for Rangel’s resignation “if the serious charges against him are accurate.”

She joined Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) in making that qualified call for resignation, with Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) the only Democrat to fully call for Rangel to step down ahead of Thursday’s hearing.

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