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Investigation into Rangel’s Dealings Intensifies

October 9, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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The House Ethics Committee is expanding its investigation into Rep. Charles Rangel over a series of questionable financial dealings. Kwame Holman reports.
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KWAME HOLMAN: New York Democrat Charles Rangel has represented his Harlem district for 40 years. He chairs the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

But, since last summer, what started as a trickle of ethics questions has become a torrent of accusations of financial misconduct. The revelations have led Republicans to try to oust Rangel from his chairmanship. The third and most recent attempt came Wednesday.

John Carter of Texas introduced the resolution, reading all nine pages and more than 2,000 words of it.

REP. JOHN CARTER, R-Texas: Representative Rangel acknowledged his failure to pay — to pay or to publicly disclose at least half-a-million dollars in cash assets, tens of thousands of dollars in investment income, and his ownership of two pieces of property in New Jersey.

KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats in the House blocked that effort, and instead referred the matter to the Ethics Committee, which began investigating Rangel last September.

Then, yesterday, the Ethics Committee announced it was expanding its probe to include updated financial disclosure forms he filed in August. Those showed Rangel had failed to report more than $660,000 dollars in assets during 2007. The committee also was looking into Rangel’s admission that he failed to report $75,000 in rental income from a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic.

The congressman’s finances first came under scrutiny last July, when it was reported that he had broken New York City rules by leasing four rent-controlled apartments, including one he used as a campaign office. Rangel said at the time there was nothing improper about the arrangement.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL, D-NY: I don’t see anything unfair about it. And I don’t — and I didn’t even know it was a deal.

There are so many people that have come here, and they have rented apartments that have been two apartments made into one. And I really believed that if I could find the same kind of space anyplace in my beloved Harlem, I would find it. I did not negotiate. I did not ask for a lower price. And I’m paying the legal rent. Now, because it’s a good deal, that’s something else.

Rangel will not step down

KWAME HOLMAN: For now, Rangel continues to hold his influential position in the House. And, so far, there's no sign he's about to lose it.

Amy Walter of The National Journal's Hotline says it's more convenient for lawmakers to take a wait-and-see approach, rather than act now.

AMY WALTER: It's about the system is really the easiest way to say this, which is, the membership likes to protect its own. And, until they have something in hand that says it is -- there were clear issues here, which is why they put it to the Ethics Committee, to do that for them, they're going to wait until the Ethics Committee gives them a reason to remove him or not to remove him.

KWAME HOLMAN: Still, the questions surrounding Rangel could put his party in a tough spot. Democrats regained control of the House in 2006 promising to end the culture of corruption on Capitol Hill, following a series of Republican scandals.

Then speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi issued this declaration the day after the midterm elections.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., speaker of the house: This new Democratic majority has heard the voices of the American people. They spoke out for a new direction to bring integrity -- integrity -- back to Washington. And we will make this the most honest, ethical and open Congress in history.

KWAME HOLMAN: But, by allowing Rangel to continue in his post, House Republican Leader John Boehner contends, Pelosi has failed to live up to her promise.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, house minority leader: This issue is not going to go away. When I took control as Republican leader in the beginning of '07, I made it clear that I was going to hold our members to a higher standard, that it was critically important for us to begin the process of rebuilding trust. And this is a time for Speaker Pelosi, who promised to drain the swamp, to have the most open and ethical Congress in history, for her to step up and to do what she promised to do.

Rangel as a liability for Democrats

KWAME HOLMAN: Looking to take advantage of the situation, Republicans are using Rangel in a campaign ad targeting Democrat Steve Kagen in Wisconsin.

NARRATOR: Steve Kagen found a friend in corrupt New York City Congressman Charlie Rangel. Kagen took $16,000 from Rangel and voted to spend $2 million of your tax dollars on a personal office and library for Rangel.

KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans aren't the only ones pressuring Rangel and the Democrats. Some editorial pages, including The New York Times, have called on Rangel to step down.

Today, The Times editorial page went further, arguing, "Mr. Rangel's accumulating missteps and Ms. Pelosi's refusal to force him to step aside only compound the spectacle."

Walter says Rangel's troubles could, indeed, hurt the Democrats in the 2010 midterms, if the Ethics Committee investigation drags out.

AMY WALTER: The more time that passes without an Ethics report becomes problematic for Democrats. This is now reaching the point where it's -- it was sort of simmering. Now it's starting to boil.

And the only way to put this fire out is to have an Ethics Committee report in hand and be able to make some action based on that report. So, if I were a Democrat sitting in Congress right now, especially a vulnerable incumbent, I would want this ethics report to be done as quickly as possible. I wouldn't want it to be sitting out there much longer.

KWAME HOLMAN: So far, though, there is no indication of when the Ethics Committee will wrap up its work on the Rangel matter.