Rangel Stands His Ground

Facing an ethics trial that may end his 40-year congressional career, Rep. Charles Rangel grew emotional Monday, saying the investigation has “been a very traumatic experience for me and for my family and my constituents.”

But it may only get worse for Rangel in the coming days.

The House ethics committee will release the detailed results of its Rangel probe Thursday, and a special investigative subcommittee has already concluded there is “substantial reason to believe” that he broke House ethics rules.

Release of the report will coincide with the beginning of a “trial” of Rangel by a special eight-member committee, a legal proceeding that could drag on well into the fall, potentially becoming an issue for vulnerable House Democrats when they go before voters Nov. 2.

Rangel is hoping this trial clears him of at least some of the allegations, although his backing is clearly softening.

“He wouldn’t win a vote on the House floor right now,” said one House Democrat.

Top Democrats aren’t offering Rangel any words of support, yet they aren’t pushing him out, either.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said they have not spoken to Rangel and have no plans to force him to resign.

But other Democrats are growing more nervous about the potential damage he could cause to the party in the midterm elections. These lawmakers want Rangel to cut a deal with the ethics committee and end the case — as rapidly as possible.

“Clearly, it’s got to be resolved quickly,” said a member of the Democratic leadership, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Rangel “needs to figure out how to make his actions not impact the House. ... From the House’s perspective, [ethics committee members] have done their jobs.”

“I think Charlie should think about what’s best for Charlie and his legacy,” said another Democrat, who refused to call for Rangel’s resignation.

Sources close to Rangel said he has not been asked to step aside by any of his colleagues or party officials, and he shows no signs of doing so, although the ethics investigation seems to be taking its toll.

“This is a very traumatic experience for me and for my family and my constituents,” Rangel said. “I can only hope that ... all the facts come out before my primary election, before my general election.” The New York primary is Sept. 14.

But Rangel faces potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills, all while he’s using his campaign funds to pay for his reelection. So far, Rangel has shelled out $1.7 million to his defense team, a total that will only soar in the weeks and months ahead.

Rangel is also losing two of his top aides soon, although sources close to the staffers said it had nothing to do with the scandal — forcing him to face the most crucial phase of the case without some of his longer-serving aides in place to advise him.

Pelosi has insisted on staying away from the controversy, saying she has not talked to Rangel about the case or his immediate future. Senior Democratic leadership aides said the speaker has no plans — either directly or through intermediaries — to seek Rangel’s resignation.

One Democratic leadership aide said such approaches “wouldn’t influence him anyway. He’s going to do what he wants to do, and there’s not anything we can possibly say at this point to change that.”

“The process should work its way through,” Pelosi told reporters Monday. “We can talk about it, but the fact is that the [ethics] committee has made its announcement and [laid out] its timetable. I think we just have to see how that ... plays out.”

“What I’ve said, and what I continue to say, is that the process is working, and it’s working properly, even for a powerful member of Congress,” Hoyer said. “I think what it shows the American people is that the system works as it should.”

Republican leaders have also said little about the case, but political operatives at the National Republican Congressional Committee have issued press statements bashing dozens of Democrats for accepting Rangel-raised campaign contributions.

House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana said the ethics committee should simply “do its job.”

“The ethics committee has taken action and determined that the allegations are of such serious magnitude that a public hearing and a public vetting [are] appropriate,” Pence said Monday. “And I want to defer to the bipartisan ethics committee’s judgment in that regard. You know, the standard for members of Congress is to be above the appearance of impropriety.”

Congressional investigators subpoenaed dozens of witness and gathered thousands of pages of documents looking into the charges against Rangel — including allegations that he failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars of income and assets, used his Ways and Means Committee post to protect a donor to the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service and failed to pay taxes on rental income for a resort home in the Dominican Republic.

The report to be released Thursday is expected to “be devastating,” said an official who has been briefed on the findings. This official would not detail the charges against Rangel but said that Thursday “is going to be a bad one for Charlie.”

A member of the Congressional Black Caucus said the outcome is less important than the charges themselves, costing Rangel any chance of regaining the Ways and Means gavel he has continued to insist is within his grasp.

“The die has been cast. He’s already taken the hit with the charges,” the lawmaker said. “The damage has been done whether he wins reelection or not.”

Maggie Haberman contributed to this report.

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