Rangel Walks Out of Ethics Trial; Says He Needs a Lawyer

BY Linda Scott  November 15, 2010 at 2:40 PM EST

Rep. Charles Rangel , D-N.Y. walked out of his ethics trial on Capitol Hill today after the House Ethics committee refused to delay the proceedings. Rangel argued in his opening statement that he did not have enough time to find new legal representation. Rangel said he has spent $2 million on legal counsel for the months-long investigation into alleged misconduct involving unpaid taxes and misuse of his office.

But the committee’s top lawyer, Blake Chisam, said in today’s hearing that he saw “no evidence of corruption,” but referred to Rangel’s finances as “sloppy,” and indicated that he had not followed House rules related to fundraising.

Before the trial began Monday morning, the hearing room was unusually quiet for a high-profile event on Capitol Hill. That soon changed after Rangel appeared.

Following opening statements by the chairwoman of the committee, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D. Calif., and the ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul. R-Tex., Rangel stood up and began to make the case that he did not have enough time to mount a legal defense fund.

His voice cracked with emotion as he recalled his 50 years of public service.

“It’s not my fault it’s taken two years for this to come to trial,” Rangel said. “This has drained me and my family has caught hell.”

The ethics committee continued the trial after Rangel left and went into a closed session.

After he walked out, Rangel released a statement on his website accusing the ethics panel of violating his right to due process.

“The process that the Committee has decided to take against me violates the most basic rights of due process that is guaranteed to every person under the Constitution. The Committee has deprived me of the fundamental right to counsel and has chosen to proceed as if it is fair and impartial and operating according to rules, when in reality they are depriving me of my rights,” the statement said.

Rangel and his legal team from the firm Zuckerman Spaeder stopped working together in October. It is against House rules for Rangel to receive pro bono legal representation.

Rangel told the committee that he would not stay for the rest of the trail without his lawyer and left the room – a scrum of reporters chased him down the hall.

Rangel’s wife Alma followed slowly behind the pack of reporters and seemed bewildered by the chaotic chase.

“We’re all very supportive and hope that this is over soon,” she said.