Rep. Charles Rangel, the most powerful tax-writing lawmaker in Congress and a 34-year veteran of Capitol Hill, acknowledged Thursday that an ethics panel has accused him of accepting Caribbean trips from a corporation in violation of House rules.
At least four other members of the Congressional Black Caucus who were also on the 2007 and 2008 trips were exonerated by the panel, a congressional source familiar with the findings told The Associated Press.
"I don't want to be critical of the committee but common sense dictates that members of Congress should not be held responsible for what could be the wrongdoing or mistakes or errors of staff unless there's reason to believe that member knew or should have known, and there is nothing in the record to indicate the latter," Rangel said at a hastily called evening news conference on Capitol Hill.
The finding is certain to jeopardize Rangel's chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee. The tax-writing committee will take a lead as Congress determines the fate of former President George W. Bush's expiring tax cuts.
Rangel's ethics troubles also present an election-year dilemma for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who led a Democratic takeover of the House in 2006 on a campaign promise to end a "culture of corruption" in the GOP-led Congress.
The 79-year-old Rangel, D-N.Y., has been in the House 30 years. It was unclear whether the findings would affect whether he seeks re-election.
The committee found that the financing of the Caribbean trips was improper for all the lawmakers involved but that only Rangel was aware that a corporation that routinely lobbied Congress picked up the tab, said the congressional official who was not authorized to speak on the record.
The committee decided against issuing formal charges against Rangel that could lead to punishment such as a censure.
The ethics committee will issue its findings in a report scheduled to be made public Friday.
Additional ethics investigations of Rangel's finances and fundraising are still under way, but they are not connected to the ruling on the Caribbean travel.