The House Ethics Committee formally charged Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) on Thursday with 13 counts of violating the rules of the House of Representatives. The charges were announced at a hearing of the committee on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Gene Green (D-Tex.) chaired the 21-month investigation and laid out the charges against the congressman. They include charges that Rangel used public resources for personal gain, omitted hundreds of thousands of dollars on his financial disclosure forms, violated the House franking statute, and engaged in conduct "reflecting discredibility on the House."
Rangel did not attend the hearing, but his attorneys filed a response to the committee's charges, calling them "deeply flawed."
"The undisputed evidence in the record . . . is that Congressman Rangel did not dispense any political favors, that he did not intentionally violate any law, rule or regulation, and that he did not misuse his public office for private gain," they wrote.
During its investigation, a subcommittee conducted 50 depositions, met three times with Rangel, met more than 60 times altogether, and reviewed 26,000 pages of documents.
"I think it's safe to say none of us enjoyed this assignment," Green said.
Although a New York television station reported Thursday morning that Rangel, 80, had reached a deal
with the committee that would be announced within hours, Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) said at the hearing that Rangel had rejected several offers to avoid a congressional trial in exchange for admitting wrongdoing.
"He chose to move forward into this public trial phase," Bonner said.
Bonner, who is the top Republican on the ethics committee, said in closing, "No one, regardless of their partisan stripes, should rejoice."
Thursday's proceedings come almost two years after Rangel -- who was elected to Congress 40 years ago
-- asked the committee to investigate him in the wake of several media reports that raised questions about his tax filings and personal financial disclosure reports to the House.
The committee's charges touched on many of the allegations raised in the media, including that Rangel failed to report to the Internal Revenue Service years of rental income on his villa in the Dominican Republic; that he used House letterhead and postage to solicit donations for a school named in his honor at City College in New York; and that he has for years been allowed to rent four rent-controlled apartments in Harlem, a violation of the House gift ban.
If Rangel and the committee fail to come to a settlement in the coming weeks, the committee will hold a hearing, likely in September, that will feature staff attorneys making their case against Rangel. The congressman and his attorneys will present their case as well; both sides will be allowed to offer evidence and call witnesses.
If Rangel is found to have violated House rules, a sentencing hearing will decide his punishment, which could include a fine, censure, reprimand or expulsion.
Without a plea deal in sight, the already drawn-out process now threatens to bleed into the crucial fall midterm election cycle
, a political reality so distasteful that three House Democrats have already called on Rangel to resign rather than continue the very public ethics battle.
Earlier this year, Rangel stepped down from his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee under pressure from fellow Democrats. Rangel insisted then that his resignation from the tax-writing committee was temporary, and that he would take back his post when he is cleared of the charges. Since then, he has defiantly maintained a high profile on Capitol Hill and in his Harlem district, maintaining his innocence at every opportunity.
On Wednesday, he gave a speech to the Urban League, saying, "Whether it's personal or political, life ain't no crystal stair."
On Thursday, Rangel walked back and forth from his office to cast votes. The congressman admitted to reporters the ethics investigation is taking a toll on him. "Sixty years ago I survived a Chinese attack in North Korea and as a result I wrote a book saying that I hadn't had a bad day since," he said. "Today I have to reassess that statement."