After pleading with a House panel to delay his long-awaited trial on corruption charges, Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) abruptly left the proceedings after he told the House ethics committee that he needed more time to raise monies for his legal defense, since his legal reps quit last month.
Rangel’s troubles began in 2008 amid reports that he failed to file reports on assets, failed to pay income taxes on rental property, violated rent-control laws on his housing in New York, and used his congressional office to raise funds for a college building named in his honor. The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct charged him in July with 13 counts of ethics violations.
The trial was the first of its kind since 2002. The committee conducted a 21- month investigation including the interview of at least 50 witnesses. The last time the committee had independently investigated charges and held hearings on lawmaker misconduct was in 1987, making the current proceedings a high-profile event.
Rangel and his law firm, Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, parted ways in October during the final preparation work for the trail. The lawyers had already been paid $1.4 million but reportedly quit when advised that Rangel had depleted his campaign accounts and was not prepared to use to personal assets to pay for his defense.
As a member of Congress, Rangel could not accept pro bono defense work from a law firm, since it would be considered a gift, which would be illegal. Rangel asked the committee for more time so that he could launch a legal defense campaign, but the committee decided that it had already been delayed enough.
Since Rangel will not be presenting a defense to the charges, a verdict from the committee is likely to be forthcoming quickly. If he is found guilty, observers say the harshest punishment may only be a public reprimand. While some critics have asked for Rangel’s resignation from Congress, he has already issued a statement the he will refuse to resign.