Ethics Committee Admonishes Rangel over Caribbean Trip

Embattled House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) says the Ethics Committee will publicly admonish him for allowing a private corporation to pay for trips he and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) took to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008.

At an extraordinary, late-night press conference at the Capitol, Rangel read from the two-and-a-half page report. The ethics panel routinely vets Congressional travel and rules whether or not such trips are appropriate. In this instance, the Ethics Committee okayed the travel. But later launched a probe into how the trip was financed.

“We were approved . The trip was approved. Whether it should have been approved is a serious issue,” Rangel said. “Now what information they had that I should have had, that's another matter.”

As he read from the report, Rangel said the committee indicated that two of his staff members were versed in the trips and knew that private corporations were footing the bill.

Rangel said that one of those aides has now been “discharged,” but didn’t name either employee.

Sources familiar with the matter indicate that the “discharged” employee is Rangel’s former Chief of Staff George Dalley, who stepped down last year.

“I don’t want to be critical of the committee. But common sense dictates that members of Congress shouldn’t be held responsible for what could be mistakes by staff unless there’s reason to believe the member knew or should have known,” Rangel said.

Rangel called the Ethics Committee’s ruling “disturbing.” He said he wouldn’t comment further until he spoke with his attorney.

During the hastily arranged news conference, Rangel refused to take questions and brushed off a reporter who asked if he will step aside as chair of the tax-writing panel.

“If you ask any questions, that would just embarrass me because I can’t give you any answers,” Rangel said. “You got the scoop.”

The press conference marked a stunning backtrack for Rangel. Just an hour earlier, reporters accosted the New York Democrat as he returned to the Capitol after the all-day health care reform summit at Blair House.

"I'm satisfied when you read the report that I've not been found guilty of anything," Rangel said.

This marks the Ethics Committee’s first ruling on a host of inquiries its launched into Rangel’s conduct.

Rangel took the unprecedented step in July, 2008 of referring himself to the Ethics Committee. He asked the panel to investigate his taxes and his use of official House stationary to raise money for City College of New York. The Ethics panel later broadened the inquiry to see if Rangel violated Congressional rules by improperly storing his broken-down Mercedes-Benz in a House garage.

In the summer of 2008, Rangel told FOX he was confident he would be cleared in the broader ethics probe because he was as “clean as the driven snow.” And in late November, 2008, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced she expected the Ethics panel would complete its probe of Rangel by early January of 2009.

The New York Democrat says he’s spoken to the Ethics Committee about the larger inquiry in the past month. When asked if they gave him any indication when they might conclude that investigation, Rangel smiled and said “they always do. But they're never on time.”