Rep. Charles Rangel, who has spent half of his 80 years as a member of Congress, is making a last-minute effort to settle his ethics case, sources said today.
A settlement would mean that Rangel must agree that he committed some ethical misconduct. The ethics committee's trial phase was due to start Thursday.
Rangel stepped down earlier this year as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee because of an earlier ethics charge. A settlement would spare him the embarrassing ethics trial.
The House ethics committee chairman, Democrat Zoe Lofgren of California, says the secret talks are between Rangel's attorney and the non-partisan staff of the committee. She heads the full ethics committee and also the panel that would decide in a trial whether charges of ethical misconduct could be proved.
Lofgren said she is not involved in the talks. She said the congressmen on the ethics committee have always accepted the recommendations of the professional staff in previous settlements.
An ethics trial --something sought by Rangel who is determined to clear his name -- would coincide with campaign season. Democrats will have to defend their party's conduct. If enough of them lose, the party could cede control of the House to Republicans.
Republicans are already going negative, reminding voters that Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to "drain the swamp" of ethical misdeeds in Congress.
Rangel's lawyer had been negotiating with the House ethics committee to settle his case. But to end it, Rangel would have had to accept the allegations. Rangel had been willing to accept some, but that didn't satisfy the committee, according to a person familiar with the talks but not authorized to be quoted by name.
"I look forward to airing this thing," Rangel, who is tied for fourth in House seniority, told reporters late last week, insisting the allegations against him have no substance.
It was disclosed Thursday that Rangel is being charged with multiple ethics violations. The ethics committee won't reveal the specific charges until next Thursday at a public meeting. However, several persons familiar with the allegations, who were not authorized to discuss them publicly, said some of the charges against Rangel, who has spent 40 years in Congress, were related to:
—Rangel's use of official stationery to raise money for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York.
—His use of four rent-subsidized apartment units in New York City. The city's rent stabilization program is supposed to apply to one's primary residence. One had been used as a campaign office, raising a separate question of whether the rent break was an improper gift.
—Rangel's failure to report income as required on his annual financial disclosure forms. The committee had investigated his failure to report income from the lawmaker's rental unit at the Punta Cana Yacht Club in the Dominican Republic. Rangel also belatedly disclosed hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment assets.
Sanctions can range from a damaging committee report to censure by the House and even expulsion, a punishment reserved for only the most egregious violations.
Ironically, Rangel raised money for scores of Democratic candidates before his ethics problems surfaced. Now, many Democrats wouldn't touch a contribution from Rangel's leadership fund and might pressure him to accept the charges or even get out of his re-election race.
Some officials in Rangel's hometown voiced their support for the embattled lawmaker.
"They make jokes about people who are so popular they wouldn't lose an election even if they were indicted," said Lawrence Levy, a political commentator and head of Hofstra University's National Center on Suburban Studies. "Charlie is so popular it probably won't have much effect on him."
"The process is going forward," said state Assemblyman Keith Wright, a Democrat representing Harlem. "I'm going to tell you what I'm going to tell him: Stay strong, keep your head up. The community of Harlem is behind you."
The last time a Rangel ethics case moved forward, the ethics committee concluded earlier this year that the lawmaker violated House rules on two trips to Caribbean conferences. The committee said Rangel should have known that corporate money paid for the trips.
Rangel, still chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee at the time, initially said he wouldn't step down from his post. After a closed-door meeting with Pelosi while reporters waited outside, Rangel changed his mind. He stepped aside from a chairmanship he may never get back, because of concerns that staying in the position would hurt other Democrats.