Every day, in courtrooms across the country, people accused of crimes cut a last-minute deal with the prosecution before they go to trial.
Don’t expect the same today from Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and House ethics investigators.
A special House “adjudicative subcommittee” is poised to proceed today with an open hearing detailing Rangel’s alleged ethics violations as spelled out by a lower-level ethics panel.
Such a rare public forum on ethics is rare. The House has only conducted two, similar open hearings exploring corruption in the past 13 years. The last was a case against former Rep. Jim Traficant (D-OH) in 2002, whom the House expelled. Traficant then did jail time. Before that, the House held a public session in 1997 to sanction former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA).
Beginning at 1 pm in the underground Capitol Visitor’s Center, ethics investigators will lay out a set of charges against Rangel. Ethics Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and ranking Adjudicatory Subcommittee member Michael McCaul (R-TX) will open the meeting. That’s followed by statements from Reps. Gene Green (R-TX) and Jo Bonner (R-AL). They headed the lower-tier “investigative subcommittee” which found fault with Rangel and kicked the matter to the special, adjudicative subcommittee.
The adjudicatory subcommittee is not comprised exclusively of members of the Ethics Committee. Instead, the membership includes Lofgren and McCaul, along with Reps. GK Butterfield (D-NC), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Peter Welch (D-VT), Mike Conaway (R-TX), Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Gregg Harper (R-MS).
Rangel nor his legal counsel has to speak today. But they could ask to make statements. The committee will release the full “Statement of Alleged Violations” right before the session begins. The entire proceeding is expected to last about an hour.
Don’t expect an outcome at the end of this meeting. Thursday’s hearing is simply the presentation of the preliminary investigation. Evidence will then be given to the adjudicatory subcommittee and a trial-like forum for Rangel probably wouldn’t start until September.
The adjudicatory subcommittee would then have to vote on meting out potential punishment for Rangel and then send that to the full Ethics Committee. The Ethics Committee would then have to affirm the findings and send its report to the entire House for punishment to be decided there.
The Constitution gives the House and Senate the right to discipline its membership and determine who is fit to serve.
The House only recognizes three official forms of discipline: reprimand, censure and expulsion. However, the House periodically sanctions members with letters of admonishment. Everything is on the table. Conceivably, the House could make Rangel stand in the corner.
Here’s something to watch for: Democrats and Republicans alike have mostly kept their powder dry since the announcement came late last Thursday that ethics investigators found alleged wrongdoing by Rangel. Reps. Walt Minnick (D-ID), Betty Sutton (D-OH) and Ann Kilpatrick (D-AZ) all have asked for Rangel to resign if the ethics charges are found to be true. All three face touch re-election campaigns. Minnick and Kilpatrick are freshmen in swing districts.
But once the charges are out of the box today, expect a tidal wave of Democrats and Republicans alike to begin to chatter about Rangel and possibly call for his resignation.
Here are the issues ethic investigators have probed with Rangel:
- His failure to pay taxes on a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic.
- His use of Congressional stationary to ask for donations for a school of public service in his name at City College of New York. Rangel did not name the school.
- His failure to report $500,000 in assets on his now-amended financial disclosure forms.
- His use of four, rent-controlled apartments below market rates in Harlem.
- His storage of a broken-down, unregistered Mercedes-Benz in a House parking garage. House rules require all vehicles parked in such garages be registered and operable.
Rangel had been Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee until he resigned in March. The Ethics Committee slapped the New York Democrat on the wrist for allowing a firm to pay for his travel to the Caribbean. The Ethics Committee cleared the trip but later indicated that it was wrong for Rangel to travel on the corporate dime.
Although Rangel’s lawyers have been meeting with Ethics Committee staff, it’s possible that no “deal” could be cut until the charges against Rangel are announced. Furthermore, any such agreement would have to be signed off on by the adjudicatory subcommittee, the full Ethics Committee and possibly the entire House.
On Tuesday, Rangel described the ethics probe as a “nightmare.” But he has repeatedly said he is looking forward to the chance to defend himself.
Meantime, Rangel’s inquiry comes as the House Ethics Committee is reportedly nearing the end of a separate inquiry into Rangel’s fellow member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA). The Ethics Committee has conducted an investigation into whether Waters used her influence as a lawmaker to help direct federal bailout dollars to OneUnited, a black-owned bank in Los Angeles. Waters formerly owned stock in OneUnited and her husband served on the bank’s board.
Waters was observed leaving the Ethics Committee office Wednesday night.