A hearing by House ethics investigators is expected to convene
Thursday for Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel. In an election season,
corruption allegations can be toxic for the party in power.
Twenty-term Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York was as close as
the House comes to invincible - a powerful committee chair, winning
his last race with 89 percent of the vote - until the ethics woes he
couldn't talk away led to Thursday's scheduled launch of a rare
Up to now, these alleged violations have been mainly speculation,
culled from press reports and jeremiads from ethics watchdog groups.
These include reports of tax evasion, improper use of four rent-
controlled apartments in New York, corporate-funded travel in
violation of House rules, and soliciting funds for the Charles B.
Rangel Center for Public Service on official stationery from people
with business before the panel that he chaired. In one reported
account, Representative Rangel, then chairman of the Ways and Means
Committee, agreed to preserve a loophole for an oil driller who had
just pledged $1 million to the Charles B. Rangel Center.
But with the expected convening of an open hearing by House
ethics investigators at 1 p.m. Thursday, the charges are formal, out
in the open, and grist for fall midterm elections.
To avoid a trial, Rangel could cut a deal with the ethics panel
and publicly admit wrongdoing, or he could resign his House seat.
Three House Democrats have called for his resignation, even before
the charges were made public. Other lawmakers are expected to do the
same on Thursday.
In an election season, corruption allegations can be toxic for
the party in power. Newt Gingrich used the ethics lapses of
Democrats as a club for Republicans to take back the House in 1995,
after the GOP had been in the minority for 40 years. In 2006,
Democrats returned the favor, as they used the influence-peddling
scandals around ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to upend GOP control.
Mr. Abramoff's Jan. 3, 2006, guilty plea in a D.C. court gave
Democrats a powerful image for their 2006 campaign. That's why
Rangel, his lawyers, and House Democratic leaders have been pressing
to quietly settle the case before the House ethics panel's
"adjudicatory subcommittee" details public charges against Rangel.
Thursday's charges, public-interest groups say, could go to the
heart of the pay-to-play culture on Capitol Hill that has undermined
the reputation of Congress for decades - or they could focus on
relatively minor reporting errors.
"With Rangel, it remains to be seen what happens when they
present their case. He sent out letters on official stationery
trying to raise money for the Charles B. Rangel Center, then met
with people shortly after his fundraising pitches with business
before the Ways and Means Committee," says Bill Allison, editorial
director at the Sunlight Foundation in Washington. "If the charges
all focus on financial disclosures and paperwork, it's far less
interesting at getting at how Congress really works."
Barring a last-minute deal, here's how events will play out. …