Rangel Holds Onto House Chairmanship Amid Ethics Inquiry

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Rep. Charles Rangel emerged from a private meeting with fellow lawmakers Monday night having survived another day as chairman of the House tax-writing committee, despite lingering questions about his personal finances and unpaid taxes on a beach house.

"I am unable to say anything," the New York Democrat said, before rattling off his name, rank and serial number from his days as a soldier in the Korean War. "Do to me what you want, I'm not talking."

Asked if he was still the chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, Rangel smiled and said nothing.

"You're damn right he's the chairman," replied fellow lawmaker Sander Levin, D-Mich.

Rangel's meeting with fellow Democrats on the committee lasted nearly an hour. During that time, many lawmakers in the room voiced support for Rangel continuing in his high position while the House ethics committee probes his finances, according to people who were there and spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private.

Republicans have called for Rangel to be removed from his chairmanship over unreported income and unpaid taxes on his beach house in the Dominican Republic.

Pelosi has to date resisted those demands. The issue is expected to come up again Tuesday morning at a meeting of Democratic leaders.

Rangel's beach house issue is one of several areas being examined by the House ethics committee.

The 78-year-old lawmaker decided over the weekend to hire an expert to pore over his finances for the past 20 years, and issue a report to the committee. The congressman has not yet enlisted a particular person for that task.

Rangel's lawyer, Lanny Davis, said the move shows Rangel "has nothing to hide and does not believe he has done anything intentionally wrong."

The accountant's report will not be reviewed by Rangel or his advisers before it is given to the committee "as quickly as possible," Davis said. The lawmaker also promised that once the report is complete, he will publicly release his tax returns for the past 20 years.

The tax issue is particularly embarrassing for a lawmaker whose job is to guide new tax law. His committee post is among the most coveted on Capitol Hill.

As more questions have been raised about Rangel's records, his lawyers and accountants have uncovered new discrepancies in the personal financial disclosure documents that he files every year to Congress. Every lawmaker is required to file such paperwork disclosing major assets.

Among the new discrepancies:

_Rangel's papers over the past 10 years show no reference to the sale of a home he once owned on Colorado Avenue in Washington.

_The details of a property bought in Sunny Isles, Fla., are bewildering at best. The stated value changes significantly from year to year, and even page to page, from $50,000 to $100,000 all the way up to $500,000.

_Some of the entries for investment funds fluctuate strangely, suggesting that the person either didn't have accurate information or didn't fill out the paperwork correctly.

Rangel spent the past week trying to answer questions about his ethics and his finances. He acknowledged that he owes the Internal Revenue Service about $5,000 in back taxes for unreported income from the rental of his vacation villa, and probably a smaller amount to state and city tax collectors.

The congressman acknowledged he made mistakes but said they were errors of omission and should not lead to the loss of his high position in Congress.

Besides the vacation property, the ethics committee is also investigating Rangel's rental of three rent-stabilized apartments in his home district of Harlem, as well as his use of official congressional stationery to try to find private donors for a college center named after the lawmaker.