WASHINGTON — The long-awaited congressional ethics hearing for New York Rep. Charles Rangel proceeded without him Monday after the Harlem Democrat walked out of the proceeding, saying he did not have legal representation.
In a tense exchange with members of a subcommittee of the House ethics panel, the once-powerful 80-year-old congressman complained that the two-year investigation into whether he had failed to report sources of income, among the 13 alleged violations, caused him to rack up a legal tab of nearly $2 million. His lawyers warned the hearing could cost another $1 million and withdrew as his representatives when he couldn't convince them he could pay, Rangel said.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the ethics committee, noted that it was Rangel's responsibility to retain counsel and sought to proceed with the hearing. Blake Chisam, the panel's chief counsel, moved to introduce more than 500 exhibits collected over the course of the 21-month-old investigation.
Rangel said he would have to leave. "I object to the proceeding and, with all due respect, since I don't have counsel to advise me, I'm going to have to excuse myself, because I have no idea what this man has put together."
Rangel's absence from his own ethics hearing is the latest twist in what has been a humbling experience for the veteran lawmaker. After rising through Congress to assume the chairmanship of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, Rangel stepped down from that post earlier this year as the ethics committee examined his financial dealings. In July, he was charged with 13 House ethics violations. He is accused of using one of his four rent-controlled apartments in New York as a campaign office, using his congressional office to solicit corporate contributions for a public-affairs school established in his name, failing to report rental and investment income on his disclosure forms and failing to pay property taxes on a Caribbean rental property.