After waiting two years to be tried by the House ethics subcommittee, Rep. Charles Rangel was convicted within three days at a trial that never was. The embattled representative from Harlem left the proceedings after delivering his opening statement, refusing to participate at a hearing in which he “was deprived of due process rights.”
On Tuesday, Rangel was found guilty of 11 of 13 counts of ethic violations by the eight-member subcommittee of four Republicans and four Democrats, which cited that he used congressional stationery and staff members to solicit donations for a center to be named in his honor at City College, failed to pay some taxes and did not accurately report his personal income.
The panel of representatives split on one of the charges related to the four rent stabilized apartments and two of the counts were merged on the alleged misuse of House mailing privileges.
Reading the verdict, the chair, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said, “We have tried to act with fairness, led only by the facts and the law. I believe that we have accomplished that mission.”
A defiant Rangel had a different view of the process and the outcome.
“How can anyone have confidence in the decision of the ethics subcommittee when I was deprived of due process, right to counsel and was not even in the room?” Rangel wrote in a statement. “I can only hope that the full committee will treat me more fairly, and take into account my entire 40 years of service to the Congress before making any decisions on sanctions.”
That decision is expected to be rendered by the full committee of 10 on Thursday. It is widely considered that the 80-year-old representative will be either severely censured or reprimanded.
“I am disappointed by the unfortunate findings of the ethics subcommittee,” Rangel continued. “The committee’s actions are unprecedented in view of the fact that they arrived at [their conclusion] without rebuttal or counter evidence on my behalf.”
Rangel asserted that only a week before the trial was to take place, he was presented with an 80-page motion of summary judgment on Monday. Without legal counsel, he insisted he was not prepared to go to trial and requested a delay. The delay was denied, and acceding to the wishes of the prosecutor, Blake Chisam, the subcommittee began its deliberations with an understanding that the facts of the case were uncontested.
When Chisam was asked by a panelist if there was possible corruption by Rangel, he said no, nor, in his opinion, had the congressman intentionally sought personal financial gains by his actions. “Sloppiness” was the extent of Rangel’s errors, Chisam added.
“The committee elected to reject my appeal for additional time to secure new counsel and thus acted in violation of the basic constitutional right to counsel,” Rangel wrote. “The committee’s findings are even more difficult to understand in view of yesterday’s declaration by the committee’s chief counsel, Blake Chisam, that there was no evidence of corruption or personal gain in his findings.”
“I think Charlie was marvelous in refusing to go to trial without an attorney,” said the Rev. C. Vernon Mason. “They deliberately let him twist in the wind for two years, thereby exhausting his legal funds and then denied him the opportunity to seek counsel. Not having a prompt exercise of due process is a grievous miscarriage of justice.”
Fellow New York congressional colleague Rep. Eliot Engel concurred with Mason and was concerned that Rangel might be condemned before the full Committee on Standards of Official Conduct has ruled on the charges. “I think that people should judge Charlie Rangel by his long career and put into perspective what has happened as of late,” Engel told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday. “I think he has done a very many good things for his district and for New York and for the country.”
Thousands of Harlemites thought the same thing when they reelected him for a 21st term.
“What I remember most about Congressman Rangel is what he did back in the late ’80s in disallowing tax breaks for corporations doing business in South Africa, which at that time was under an apartheid government,” said professor Michael Thelwell of the University of Massachusetts. “For that alone, his legacy, for me, is secure.”
In his autobiography, “And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since,” this bill is discussed as part of the “Rangel Amendment.” And after the full committee’s decision on Thursday, let us hope that the good congressman will not have to amend the title of his autobiography.