Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rangel To Go To Trial?

It's long been an open secret in Congress that veteran Democrat Charlie Rangel is one of the most corrupt legislators in Congress.

After a two year investigation Rangel has been hit with 13 separate charges by the House Ethics Committee.

He had already been ousted from his influential post as House Ways and Means chairman in March after the House ethics committee ruled against him in a separate case, saying he should have known that corporate money paid for two Caribbean junkets.

The new charges include:

  • Rangel improperly solicited money from corporate officials and lobbyists for the Charles B. Rangel Public Policy Center in New York. He reportedly used his Congressional staff to hit on potential donors to the Rangel Center, then mailed letters from his Capitol Hill office, on official letterhead, to those donors.

  • He pressured lobbyists for several of the corporations he sent donation requests to get those corporations to kick in. he also pressured lobbyists personally for donations.

  • He solicited donations from a number of corporate-affiiated charities. These included foundations and charities connected to Verizon, Ford, AT&T, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, and Wachovia, among others, in the amount of approximately $30 million.

This all happened while he was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, charged with setting tax rates and policy for these corporations. Nice, hmmm?

  • He also lobbied fellow congressmen to approve millions of federal tax dollars for the Rangel Center. He eventually got $2.1 million in taxpayer money.

In case you're wondering what this was all about,what Rangel was doing was setting up a tax free source of funding and employment for himself and his heirs after he left Congress. Think of it as Charlie Rangel's 'Presidential library', funded by the corporations he put the bite on and the American tax payer.

  • There's his failure failure to report rental income from vacation property in the Dominican Republic and more than $600,000 in other income on his congressional financial disclosure statements. This charge covers multiple years.

  • Then there's his illegal occupancy of four rent controlled apartment in New York City, one of which was used as a campaign office.

So, what happens next?

If you or I did anything remotely like this, we'd be looking at jail time. But the rules are different for Congress.

Charlie Rangel is an influential democrat and a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Even to get things this far and have charges levied has been a major effort, and if Rangel wasn't so blatantly greedy, this probably would have been swept under the rug.

Instead he has options. He could cut a deal to resign from Congress in exchange for some or all of the charges being dropped, although the tax and rent control charges might lead to criminal prosecution if his Congressional immunity went bye bye.

A fair amount of Democrats, especially those facing tough re-election battles want Rangel to resign, to get this out of the headlines.Their numbers include Rep. Betty Sutton of Ohio and Rep. Walt Minnick of Idaho, both of whom are on the Ethics committee.

The Republicans on the committee say that Rangel had ample opportunity to talk settlement during the investigation, and they now want him tried by the Committee, which is split evenly be tween 8 members of each party.At least one Republican would have to approve any dealRangel offers.

Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the ranking Republican on the panel said that Rangel had been "given the opportunity to negotiate a settlement during the investigation phase. We are now in the trial phase," he said.

If there is a trial, the GOP can turn it into a major campaign issue.That's the last thing the Democrats want.

The trial process itself is interesting.

The legislators who investigated Rangel and the committee's staff lawyers will testify and try to show that Rangel is guilty and should be punished by the House.

They'll do this in front of a second team of legislator called an adjudicatory subcommittee and will be countered by Rangel's defense team. The subcommittee then will determines whether the charges against Rangel are valid, and if they agree that they are, the committee will recommend to the House on what Rangel's punishment should be. These can include a reprimanded, censure or expulsion from the House.The last one is extremely unlikely.

Rangel can also appeal his 'sentence' even if the charges are proved.

We'll see what develops.

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