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Rangel Denies Misconduct Charges as Ethics Panel Meets to Decide His Fate

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Rep. Charles Rangel enters his office on Capitol Hill July 29. (AP Photo)

A House ethics panel will meet for the second time Friday morning to continue discussion of the 13 allegations of misconduct against longtime Rep. Charles Rangel.

Rangel is charged with misconduct ranging from failure 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.

So far, the panel has given little indication of whether a plea deal will be settled or if Rangel will be headed to a very rare public trial. Regardless, the New York Democrat, maintains he's done nothing wrong.

"Even though they are serious charges, I'm prepared to prove that the only thing I've ever had in my 50 years of public service is service," Rangel told reporters Thursday night. "That's what I've done and if I've been overzealous providing that service, I can't make an excuse for the serious violations."

Congressional approval rating is at an all time low, but Rangel’s fellow democrats are particularly wary of the investigation given the upcoming elections. With the fear of losing control on the House ever-present, some have even asked Rangel to resign or opt for a plea bargain in order to avoid the publicity of a trial.

Lawyers for Rangel and the House ethics committee reportedly had been working on a plea deal, but Republicans on the panel suggested the time for such a resolution had passed.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, ranking member on the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, said Rangel was given an opportunity to settle charges during the investigative process, and that time has passed. 

"Let me be clear that Mr. Rangel under these rules was given opportunities to negotiate a settlement during the investigation. Let me be clear that I did not participate in any attempts to cut a back room deal behind closed doors," McCaul said at the start of a hearing on possible corruption charges. 

McCaul said it's not lost on any member of the panel that the approval rating of Congress has reached its low, and requires the probe, which has involved 28,000 pages of documents and 60 meetings as well as one deposition from Rangel, be fair and open.

Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren added that the "task is to determine whether Rangel violated that trust."

Rangel said Thursday that no deal had been struck to spare him from the drawn-out ethics trial, as reports surfaced than an agreement with the congressional panel investigating several alleged violations was in the works. 

"I'm not involved in a deal," Rangel said after a CBS affiliate in New York and Reuters reported that a deal was being worked out. Any arrangement would have to be approved by the subcommittee hearing the case, the full ethics committee and potentially the full House of Representatives. 

Despite the meeting, Rangel said there is "no inference of corruption" in his dealings, a contention that flies in the face of the meeting taking place by the adjudicatory subcommittee, which was asked to "prove" the allegations.

"The good thing is that no matter how this thing ends, corruption and dishonesty have never been on the table," he said.

Rangel did not attend the meeting, which lasted about 15 minutes, but submitted a 32-page written statement.

Click here to read Rangel's response to the ethics committee

A Pox on All Their Houses

Earlier in the day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the chips will "fall where they may" in the case. She acknowledged "individual cases" of ethical lapses as Rangel prepared to face the panel over a string of tax violation allegations that have embroiled not only him but the entire House Democratic delegation.

Pelosi said the hearing and investigation are a "top priority" and that she has no idea what the committee will recommend. She made no mention of a deal. 

"This ethics process will play out and we'll go from there," she said. 

But House Minority Leader John Boehner said "the speaker owes the American people some answers to their questions."

"The fact is, the swamp has not been drained," Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "This is a sad moment for the House. Not for Charlie Rangel. It's about Speaker Pelosi and her most glaring promise to drain the swamp."

Amid the hubbub, Rangel admitted Thursday morning that he was having a bad day, or a series of them, a confession very unlike Rangel's usual behavior to shrug off complaints about him. 

"Years ago, I survived a Chinese attack in North Korea and as a result I wrote a book that having survived that, that I hadn't had a bad day. Today, I have to reassess that statement, thank you," he said.

The comment was a reference to him being wounded by shrapnel on the battlefield in Korea in 1950. That experience was the inspiration for his 2007 autobiography, "And I Haven't Had a Bad Day Since."

The special subcommittee convened to spell out by a lower-level ethics panel is a rare forum. The House has only conducted two similar open hearings in the past 13 years -- one for former Rep. Jim Traficant and one for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

Eight House lawmakers had been tasked with determining the former Ways and Means chairman's guilt or innocence relating to a series of possible tax violations. A number of Democrats considering calls for the Democrat to resign will get their first look at the allegations.

Rangel and his counsel are not required to speak at the hearing and so far have not asked to make a statement. Though the allegations were detailed Thursday afternoon, an outcome was not expected. If a deal is not approved, a trial-like forum probably would not begin until September -- dangerously close to Election Day for Democrats. 

In the end, the House only recognizes three forms of discipline -- reprimand, censure and expulsion, though the House occasionally sanctions members with letters of admonishment. 

"I think everyone is looking forward to getting all the facts out in the open and people will have to react once we know what we're dealing with," said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill. 

Rangel is tied for fourth in House seniority. He's still vigorous at 80 years old. He had substantial influence as chairman of the ways and means panel, which handles taxes, trade, portions of health care, Medicare and Social Security. Rangel stepped down from that post in March after the ethics committee criticized him in a separate case, saying he should have known that corporate money paid for two trips to Caribbean conferences. 

After a two-year investigation, researchers have narrowed the allegations to Rangel's misuse of his office for fundraising, failure to disclose income, belated payment of taxes and possible help with a tax shelter for a company whose chief executive was a major donor. 

The 42-member Congressional Black Caucus has warned Democrats against a rush to judgment, and any lawmaker with a significant African-American constituency must consider whether it's worth asking Rangel to quit. 

However, some Democratic House members in close races may think it's more important to distance themselves from Rangel. They don't want to have to answer negative Republican ads about Speaker Nancy Pelosi's promise to wipe Congress clean of ethical misdeeds. 

Two Democrats didn't wait to hear the charges. 

Rep. Betty Sutton of Ohio, a second-term lawmaker who received 65 percent of the vote two years ago, said Rangel needs to resign to preserve the public's trust in Congress. 

Rep. Walt Minnick of Idaho, a freshman who got 51 percent of the vote last time, called for resignation if the charges are proven.

Fox News' Chad Pergram and John Brandt and The Associated Press contributed to this report.