WASHINGTON – House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., filed an ethics complaint against himself Wednesday with the House ethics committee.
The move is believed to be unprecedented.
Rangel took the unusual action in response to recent news coverage by The Washington Post and The New York Times, which recently ran stories raising questions about his involvement in raising money for an academic center named in his honor at City College of New York, and his Harlem rent-controlled apartments.
"No one's ever filed anything against me saying that I've done anything wrong. What I want to do is have a preliminary investigation of the facts to see if I did go over the line because there's no question I was bringing people together," Rangel said in an interview with FOX News, speaking about the fundraising.
"I'm just so proud of what I've done that if there is some blurry line there, let's clear up the line and let everyone know what it's all about," he added.
Rangel doesn't deny using congressional letterhead to ask non-profit organizations to contribute to the academic center. As far as the name goes, he said the college already had decided to name the center after Rangel.
But ethicists cited by the Post criticized Rangel's activities, saying Rangel's position on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, which has broad authority, could make someone feel like he or she had to donate money to get favorable treatment by the congressman. They also said there's a chance a congressman would steer funds toward a center with his name on it over projects that could be more worthy.
At a press conference last week, Rangel said none of the people who received fundraising requests had business before his committee like the Post claimed. He also called on the Post — or anyone else — to file ethics charges against him, although it technically is not an option afforded to those who are not members of the House.
Rangel initially was not going to bring up the apartment issue, but he told FOX on Wednesday that he wanted the House ethics committee — officially known as the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct — to also clear up that matter.
"I'm not thinking about moving. I know I'm right legally. But when I met with you reporters, I thought that if I was going to do the stationary (matter), and if it's a question of ethics, let the ethics committee exonerate me. There is no market rent. And I'm paying the maximum," Rangel said.
"I haven't the slightest doubt in my mind that there's no ill intent and no violation of the Ethics Committee," he said.
Rangel has decided to give up one of the four apartments he rents at cut-rate prices because he was not living in it, an apparent violation of city and state rules.
But Rangel last week dismissed the question over whether the difference between the price he pays for his living space and the market rate for the apartments is a gift. He said there's no way to determine the market rate for a similar place, and even if there were, there isn't anyone to whom he could repay the difference.