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Ethics Panel Considers Whether Rangel Broke Rules

Nov. 16 (Bloomberg) -- A congressional ethics panel’s deliberations on whether U.S. Representative Charles Rangel broke House rules entered a second day today.

The four Democrats and four Republicans on the House ethics subcommittee resumed discussions behind closed doors on whether the evidence presented by their counsel yesterday adds up to a violation of House rules. The panel heard the evidence, in a hearing boycotted by Rangel, after rejecting his request for a postponement to give him time to hire a new lawyer.

“Fifty years of public service is on the line,” Rangel said yesterday. “I truly believe that I’m not being treated fairly and that history will dictate that, notwithstanding the political calendar, I am entitled to a lawyer during this proceeding.”

The committee in July accused Rangel of 13 violations of House rules, including improperly soliciting donations to help finance a City College of New York academic center named for him, filing erroneous financial-disclosure statements and misusing rent-controlled apartments in Manhattan.

The subcommittee is to make a recommendation to the full 10-member House ethics panel, which then would decide on possible punishment. That could range from a rebuke by letter, to a public reprimand on the House floor, to expulsion.

Rangel, in seeking a postponement of the hearing, said his previous lawyers dropped him last month after being paid $2 million in legal fees. Rangel said he didn’t have the money to continue paying the firm and needed to set up a legal defense fund to raise cash.

Left the Room

He told the panel he wouldn’t respond to the charges against him or participate in the hearing without an attorney. Rangel left the room as the subcommittee members adjourned to meet in closed session to consider the request for a postponement. He didn’t return when the subcommittee members rejected his request and reconvened.

Later, Rangel issued a statement that said, “They can do what they will with me because they have the power and I have no real chance of fighting back.”

Even as the case proceeded, some subcommittee members said it was wrong for Rangel’s lawyers to withdraw weeks before the hearing.

“If this was a court of law, a judge would not permit that to happen,” said Representative Peter Welch, a Vermont Democrat.

Committee chief counsel Blake Chisam presented evidence on the allegations against Rangel to the panel.

“In all of your investigation of this matter, did you see any evidence of personal financial benefit or corruption?” Representative G.K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat, asked Chisam.

‘I Do Not’

“Do I believe, based on this record, that Congressman Rangel took steps to enrich himself based on his position in Congress? I do not,” Chisam responded.

Rangel “was overzealous in many of the things that he did,” Chisam said, citing the charges that Rangel used congressional stationery and staff members in seeking donations for the academic center.

‘Sloppy’ Finances

Chisam also said Rangel was “sloppy in his personal finances.”

Representative Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican, asked the committee’s lawyer whether he was saying “that sloppiness is a defense?”

“I don’t believe it’s a defense at all,” Chisam said. “In fact, I believe that it’s a violation of the rule.”

Rangel, 80, took to the House floor Aug. 10 to declare that he wouldn’t resign his seat and instead wanted the committee to “expedite” its hearing.

He won a 21st House term Nov. 2 after fending off challenges from five candidates in New York’s Sept. 14 Democratic primary. He garnered 80 percent of the general election vote in his Harlem-based district.

Rangel stepped aside as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in March after the ethics panel said he broke House rules by accepting corporate-sponsored travel.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at jsalant@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net.

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