Rangel meets with Ethics Chair and Key House Players

Embattled Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and his attorney met Monday night with House Ethics Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) as the House prepared to launch a rare, public ethics inquiry on Thursday into alleged misdeeds by the New York Democrat.

Lofgren will chair an "adjudicatory subcommittee" that will present its case against Rangel. An investigative panel reported last week that it had found ethics violations by Rangel.

For nearly two years, the ethics committee has probed Rangel on a host of issues, ranging from tax evasion to improper use of Congressional stationery to raise money for a school of public affairs in the Congressman's name at City College of New York.

Rangel sought counsel Monday night from Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), special assistant to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

"I think he's in the process of trying to determine the best course forward," said Van Hollen. "I was presenting him with my observations."

When asked if he was giving advice to Rangel in either of his leadership capacities, Van Hollen was quick to note that his guidance was coming "as a friend."

Van Hollen refused to elaborate what the two discussed just off the House floor in what had been Rangel's office when he chaired the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

"For now, I'm just going to keep my counsel to Mr. Rangel," Van Hollen said.

A Democratic House source indicates Rangel also met with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

For days, senior House sources have discussed the possibility of Democratic leaders offering Rangel a "deal" that would avoid a potentially embarrassing, public ethics trial right before Democrats face one of the most-competitive midterm elections in years.

Many Democrats are concerned that Rangel's insistence of proving his innocence at the trial could damage other vulnerable House Democrats right before an election.

"Everyone's uncomfortable with it," said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH). "Everyone wants it to go away."

Meantime, members of the Congressional Black Caucus issued a statement asking that Rangel be allowed to make his case at the public forum.

“Any rush to judgment to short-circuit the ongoing review of Congressman Rangel by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct will do a disservice to the well established processes of the House of Representatives," said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

It's been eight years since the Ethics Committee has conducted such a probe in public. In fact, when the Ethics Committee disciplined former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), a lower-level subcommittee formally admonished the Texas Republican in a written statement.

Rep. Jo Bonner (R-AL), the leading Republican on the Ethics Committee, said there was no reason to kick DeLay's issues to a higher "adjudicative subcommittee."

"The sanction was admonishment," Bonner said of DeLay.

Bonner's remark implies the House Ethics Committee may have a more serious form of punishment lined up for Rangel.

Officially, the House recognizes three forms of discipline: reprimand, censure and expulsion.

For his part, Rangel had little to say about the meetings and the pending hearing on Thursday.

"I have to find out what they're going to do on Thursday," Rangel said. "And then I'll be prepared for it."