Monday, November 15, 2010

The Farcical Rangel Ethics Trial To Get Underway: UPDATE: Rangel Walks Out

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) who managed to win convincingly in his primary and general elections in his Harlem district despite being under multiple investigations for tax evasion at the federal and multiple state and local levels, ethics charges and violating rent stabilization laws is finally going to go to trial before a House ethics panel.
Charges against Rangel
The charges allege violations of:

* A House gift ban and restrictions on solicitations. Rangel is accused of using congressional staff, letterhead and workspace to seek donations for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York. The requests usually went to charitable arms of businesses with issues before Congress, including Rangel's Ways and Means Committee.
* A U.S. government code of ethics. Several allegations fall under this code, among them: Accepting favors (the Rangel Center donations) that could be construed as influencing Rangel's congressional duties; acceptance of a rent-subsidized New York apartment used as a campaign office, when the lease said it was for residential use only; and failure to report taxable income.
* The Ethics in Government Act and a companion House rule requiring "full and complete" public reports of a congressman's income, assets and liabilities each year. Rangel is charged with a pattern of submitting incomplete and inaccurate disclosure statements. He only filed amended reports covering 1998 to 2007 after the investigative ethics panel began looking into his disclosures. He belatedly reported at least $600,000 in assets.
Despite the seriousness of the charges, expect nothing more than a slap on the wrist. After all, his very constituents didn't think much of the multiple issues and wrongdoing while reelecting him to yet another term in office.

A letter of censure or a reprimand will be all that Rangel endures. Indeed, members of the ethics panel said that the charges will likely merit nothing more. Never mind that anyone else under similar circumstances would have been required to pay restitution or brought up on criminal charges for fraud and tax evasion.

Expulsion from Congress is not likely and here's why: both Democrats and Republicans need Rangel to stick around. Democrats need live bodies on Capitol Hill to deal with the incoming surge of Republicans while Republicans need a punching bag to showcase ongoing Democratic leadership tone-deafness to legal and ethical malfeasance by its caucus. Figure that the Democrats will weigh the positives and negatives of sending Rangel packing and opting to keep him around.

Yet another sign of the farce? Rangel walked out of the proceedings, claiming that he hasn't had sufficient time to hire a new legal team. Excuse me, but Rangel knew for months that this was going to go to trial and the Democrats pushed off the trial until after the elections. This is just another sign of Rangel's obstinacy and disregard for the rules.

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