A Ran­gel deal would be a bad deal for ethics ac­count­abil­ity

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

Politico re­ported this week that House Demo­cratic lead­ers are push­ing U.S. Rep. Charles Ran­gel of New York to ne­go­ti­ate a deal over broad ethics charges against him so ev­ery­body can avoid a pub­lic trial. We’re won­der­ing: Who is served by that?

It serves House Democrats, who would avoid the em­bar­rass­ment of try­ing one of their most prom­i­nent mem­bers as the Novem­ber elec­tion ap­proaches.

It might even serve Ran­gel if the Democrats are so des­per­ate to bury his prob­lems that they’ll cut a deal that saves his job.

It won’t serve Ran­gel’s con­stituents, or the rest of the coun­try. Not at all.

The House ethics com­mit­tee has been slog­ging through the Ran­gel in­ves­ti­ga­tion for two years. For much of that time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cod­dled him, re­sist­ing de­mands that he step aside as chair­man of the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee. Fi­nally, that be­came too great an em­bar­rass­ment. As Repub­li­cans pushed for his ouster, Ran­gel took a leave of ab­sence ear­lier this year.

If Ran­gel and the ethics com­mit­tee don’t reach a deal by to­day, there will be a full air­ing of the ev­i­dence back­ing the charges against him. That’s ex­actly what needs to hap­pen.

A full and open ac­count­ing. Any­thing less — any deal — will in­vite sus­pi­cion.

Pelosi — you re­mem­ber, she said she was go­ing to “drain the swamp” when she be­came speaker — needs to fi­nally stop cod­dling Ran­gel. It’s all too self-serv­ing.

The ethics com­mit­tee has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing all sorts of charges against Ran­gel. That he took cor­po­rate-paid trips to the Caribbean in vi­o­la­tion of House rules. That he held four rent-sta­bi­lized New York apart­ments and used one as a cam­paign of­fice. That he failed to dis­close up to $1 mil­lion in as­sets. That he used his House po­si­tion to hus­tle con­tri­bu­tions for a cen­ter named for — guess who? — Char­lie Ran­gel.

Poor Char­lie. A few more weeks of de­lay and he would slip past a Sept. 14 Demo­cratic pri­mary in his district. Not that he has a lot to worry about: He’s in a district drawn for him, and his pri­mary op­po­nents have found that few peo­ple are will­ing to help bankroll a chal­lenge to the lion of Har­lem.

An air­ing of the charges against Ran­gel threat­ens to splat­ter all Democrats just weeks be­fore the Nov. 2 gen­eral elec­tion. In sum, the charges speak to the ar­ro­gance that has con­sumed both ma­jor par­ties in Washington. The fail­ure to curb that haughty at­ti­tude, that ar­ro­gance — we can do any­thing be­cause we run this town — hob­bled for­mer Repub­li­can Speaker Den­nis Hastert.

He failed to come down hard on his own mem­bers’ lapses. And now Speaker Drain the Swamp is do­ing the same thing.

Ran­gel re­port­edly doesn’t want to ac­cept a set­tle­ment that forces him to re­tire. He wants a tap on the wrist, so he can bull his way to re­elec­tion. No sur­prise there. When the House ethics com­mit­tee ad­mon­ished him for some of his lapses ear­lier this year, he blamed his staff and crit­i­cized the com­mit­tee.

“I don’t have any fear at all, po­lit­i­cally or per­son­ally, what they come up with,” Ran­gel said re­cently.

Fine. Bring on the House trial.

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