A House investigative committee on Thursday charged New York Rep. Charles Rangel with multiple ethics violations, dealing a serious blow to the former Ways and Means chairman and complicating Democrats' election-year outlook.
The panel did not immediately specify the charges against the Harlem Democrat, who has served in the House for some 40 years and is fourth in seniority. The charges by a four-member panel of the House ethics committee sends the case to a House trial, where a separate eight-member panel of Republicans and Democrats will decide whether the violations can be proved by clear and convincing evidence.
The timing of the announcement ensures that a public airing of Rangel's ethical woes will stretch into the fall campaign, and Republicans are certain to make it an issue as they try to capture majority control of the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi had once promised to "drain the swamp" of ethical misdeeds by lawmakers in arguing that Democrats should be in charge.
Responding to the charges, Rangel said in a statement, "I was notified today, two years after I requested an investigation, that the Ethics Committee will refer the allegations reviewed by an investigations subcommittee to a subcommittee that will review the facts. I am pleased that, at long last, sunshine will pierce the cloud of serious allegations that have been raised against me in the media."
Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said, "The action today would indicate that the independent, bipartisan ethics committee process is moving forward."
Rangel led the tax-writing Ways and Means panel until he stepped aside last March after the ethics committee criticized him in a separate case — finding that he should have known corporate money was paying for his trips to two Caribbean conferences.
Officials said that in the current case, the committee and Rangel's attorney tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a settlement. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private discussions. A settlement would have required Rangel to agree that he violated ethics rules.
The investigation of Rangel has focused on:
— His use of official stationery to raise money for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York.
— Whether he had the Ways and Means Committee consider legislation that would benefit donors to the Rangel Center at the same time the congressman solicited donations or pledges.
— Preservation of a tax shelter for an oil drilling company, Nabors Industries, which has a chief executive who donated money to the center while Rangel's committee considered the loophole legislation.
— Use of four rent-controlled apartment units in New York City, when the city's rent stabilization program is supposed to apply to one's primary residence. This raises the question of how all the units could be primary residences. One was a campaign office, raising a separate question of whether the rent break was an improper gift.
— Whether Rangel, as required, publicly reported information on the financing and rental of his ownership interest in a unit within the Punta Cana Yacht Club in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Rangel also had to pay back taxes on the rental income.
— Whether he intentionally failed to report — when required — hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in assets. The amended disclosure reports added a credit union IRA, mutual fund accounts and stock.
Rangel had hoped to regain his chairmanship, but the allegations make that virtually impossible this year.
He announced a bid for a 21st term recently, days before his 80th birthday. One of his Sept. 14 primary opponents is Adam Clayton Powell IV, son of the former congressman whom Rangel defeated in 1970.
While the case will generate unfavorable headlines for Rangel, it may have little effect in his congressional district, New York's famed Harlem, where the congressman has been a political leader for decades and is known by older constituents as a Korean War hero.
"He keeps ethics on Page 1 and Democrats, going into a tough election cycle, aren't eager to carry any liabilities beyond what they have," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College poll.
"But I think it has less to do — barring any major undoing of his legislative career — with his seat," Miringoff said.