WASHINGTON — House investigators accused veteran Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., 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 — which include failure to report rental income from vacation property in the Dominican Republic and to report more than $600,000 in assets on his congressional financial disclosure statements — came as lawyers for Rangel and the House ethics committee worked on a plea deal.
One was struck, people familiar with the talks said, but Republicans indicated it was too late. The deal between the lawyers will have little meaning if the committee members don't approve it, and Republicans said at the proceeding they were insisting on going forward with a 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.
Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., had made clear that she wanted the committee to be unanimous — leaving little chance for agreement without Rangel capitulating on virtually all counts.
After hearing from two lawmakers who headed the ethics committee's investigative panel, Lofgren adjourned Thursday's meeting, whose purpose she described as "organizational."
Many Democrats had urged Rangel, a 20-term congressman, to settle the case to avoid the prospect of televised hearings right before November's congressional elections. However, as Thursday's public airing of the charges drew nearer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seemed 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.
At her weekly press briefing, which took place before the afternoon hearing, Pelosi noted that Democrats had already imposed on Rangel the "very serious penalty" of removing him from the Ways and Means Committee chairmanship.
A decorated Korean War veteran who was first elected to Congress from his Harlem district in 1970 and co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971, Rangel, 80, faced the choice of either admitting to a series of ethical misdeeds or forcing the preliminary phase of a trial.
With his 40-year congressional legacy hanging in the balance, lawyers for the former chairman of the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee negotiated with the nonpartisan attorneys for the committee until late Wednesday and continued the discussions Thursday morning, hoping to reach a settlement.
In a 32-page rebuttal, Rangel's legal team denied the allegations, saying he didn't misuse his office.
"The undisputed evidence in the record — assembled by the investigative subcommittee over its nearly two-year investigation — is that Congressman Rangel did not dispense any political favors, that he did not intentionally violate any law, rule or regulation, and that he did not misuse his public office for private gain," Rangel's lawyers wrote to the committee.
In any case, Rangel faced an ignominious day. "Sixty years ago I survived a Chinese attack in North Korea, and as a result I haven't had a bad day since," Rangel told reporters before the hearing. "But today I have to reassess that statement."
Information from the Associated Press and the Washington Post was used in this report.