Panel to try Ran­gel on 13 ethics charges

Al­le­ga­tions in­clude mis­use of mail, fail­ure to re­port in­come

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Larry Margasak and Lau­rie Kell­man

WASHINGTON — House in­ves­ti­ga­tors ac­cused vet­eran New York Rep. Charles Ran­gel of 13 vi­o­la­tions of con­gres­sional ethics stan­dards on Thurs­day, throw­ing a cloud over his four-decade po­lit­i­cal ca­reer and rais­ing wor­ries for fel­low Democrats about the fall elec­tions.

The al­le­ga­tions in­clude fail­ure to re­port rental in­come from vacation prop­erty in the Dominican Re­pub­lic and hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in ad­di­tional in­come and as­sets on his fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure state­ments.

Other charges fo­cused on Ran­gel’s use of con­gres­sional staffers and sta­tionery to raise money for a col­lege cen­ter in New York named

Con­tin­ued from A1 af­ter him; ac­cept­ing fa­vors and ben­e­fits from the donors that may have in­flu­enced his con­gres­sional ac­tions; use of a sub­si­dized New York apart­ment as a cam­paign of­fice in­stead of a res­i­dence; and mis­use of the con­gres­sional free mail priv­i­lege.

“Even though they are se­ri­ous charges, I’m pre­pared to prove that the only thing I’ve ever had in my 50 years of pub­lic ser­vice is ser­vice,” Ran­gel told re­porters Thurs­day night. “That’s what I’ve done, and if I’ve been overzeal­ous pro­vid­ing that ser­vice, I can’t make an ex­cuse for the se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions.”

The charges came as lawyers for Ran­gel and the House ethics com­mit­tee worked out a plea deal, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the talks. But Repub­li­cans on the ethics com­mit­tee in­di­cated it was too late.

Rep. Gene Green, D-Hous­ton, who headed up the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Ran­gel, said there was “sub­stan­tial rea­son” to be­lieve the for­mer Ways and Means Com­mit­tee chair­man vi­o­lated ethics laws.

The deal be­tween the lawyers has lit­tle mean­ing if the com­mit­tee mem­bers don’t ap­prove it, and Repub­li­cans in­sisted — at the first meet­ing of a House panel de­cid­ing Ran­gel’s fate — that the case go for­ward with an ethics trial. The panel is evenly di­vided be­tween Democrats and Repub­li­cans.

“Mr. Ran­gel was given mul­ti­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties to set­tle this mat­ter. In­stead, he chose to move for­ward to the pub­lic trial phase,” said Rep. Jo Bon­ner of Alabama, the se­nior Repub­li­can on the ethics panel.

Many Democrats had urged Ran­gel to set­tle the case to avoid the prospect of tele­vised hear­ings right be­fore Novem­ber con­gres­sional elec­tions that will de­ter­mine which party con­trols Congress next year.

How­ever, as Thurs­day’s pub­lic air­ing of the charges drew nearer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seem re­signed to the case pro­ceed­ing.

“The chips will have to fall where they may po­lit­i­cally,” she told re­porters. Pur­su­ing ethics cases against House mem­bers is “a se­ri­ous re­spon­si­bil­ity that we have,” she said.

The al­leged vi­o­la­tions of House stan­dards of con­duct also in­clude us­ing con­gres­sional let­ter­head to so­licit do­na­tions for a cen­ter for pub­lic ser­vice to bear Ran­gel’s name on the New York cam­pus of the City Col­lege of New York.

Ran­gel was also ac­cused of ac­cept­ing a rent-sta­bi­lized prop­erty in Man­hat­tan for his cam­paign of­fice and ini­tially not pay­ing fed­eral taxes on the Dominican Re­pub­lic prop­erty.

The ethics panel said Ran­gel failed to re­port rental in­come on his orig­i­nal tax re­turns for 1998 through 2006 from the Dominican Re­pub­lic villa. It also said he vi­o­lated fed­eral laws in ad­di­tion to House ethics rules, in­clud­ing the 1989 Ethics Re­form Act, Postal Ser­vice laws and govern­ment ser­vice codes.

The ethics charges, agreed upon af­ter a two-year probe, were read in a pub­lic ses­sion of the Com­mit­tee on Stan­dards of Of­fi­cial Con­duct, as the ethics com­mit­tee is for­mally known. Ran­gel, 80, did not at­tend. The ses­sion set the stage for a com­mit­tee trial, ex­pected to be held in Septem­ber. Democrats had hoped to avoid such a pub­lic con­fronta­tion as Novem­ber elec­tions ap­proach.

“We live at a time when pub­lic skep­ti­cism about the in­sti­tu­tions in our coun­try is very high,” Chair­man Zoe Lof­gren, D-Calif., said.

She said it had been the panel’s goal “to by our ac­tions re­build and earn trust by the pub­lic and our col­leagues.”

Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin, the top Repub­li­can on the panel that will try Ran­gel, said that the Demo­crat had been “given the op­por­tu­nity to ne­go­ti­ate a set­tle­ment dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion phase.”

How­ever, he said, that phase is now over. “We are now in the trial phase,” he said.

A con­gres­sional trial could be avoided only if Ran­gel ad­mit­ted to sub­stan­tial vi­o­la­tions, or re­signed.

Pun­ish­ment could range from a re­port crit­i­ciz­ing his con­duct to a rep­ri­mand or cen­sure by the House, or a vote to ex­pel him — which is highly un­likely.

Rep. Charles Ran­gel

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