Last night the House Ethics Committee publicly admonished Charlie Rangel, the House Ways and Means Committee Charmian for participating in junkets to the Caribbean sponsored by corporations and lobbyists and violating house rules by letting corporations pay for his Caribbean trips.
One of the sponsors of the Junkets in question was Citigroup — a banking giant whose employees and political action committee, when taken together, represent his most generous campaign donor during the past two decades. Also Opensecrets.com reports that Rangel ranks among the top all-time congressional and presidential beneficiaries of Citigroup’s political donations.
Rangel on the other hand, claims that that the ethics report “exonerates” him because it says there is no evidence that he knew the trips were sponsored by corporations it was all his staff’s fault. Rangel claimed that his staff didn’t tell him that the Junkets were sponsored by his biggest donor. The ethics report said his staff knew who paid for the trips and even sent Rangel a memo about it, but Rangel claims he didn’t read the memo and the committee couldn’t prove that Rangel knew.
“Junket-gate” is the first of many ethics charges facing the man in charge of writing tax policy for the entire country to be ruled on. Others include “forgetting” to pay taxes on $75,000 in rental income he earned from his off-shore rental property, allegations he improperly used his influence to maintain ownership of highly coveted rent-controlled apartments in Harlem, misuse of his congressional office to fundraise for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service, and preserving a tax loophole for an oil drilling company in exchange for funding.
Beyond that, when the ethics heat started Rangel amended his financial disclosure reports, which doubled his reported wealth. (He somehow “forgot” about $1 million in assets.) And what did he do when the House Ethics Committee started looking into all of this? He started making “campaign contributions” to dig his way out of trouble. According to WCBS TV in NY:
“The reigning member of Congress’ top tax committee is apparently ‘wrangling’ other politicos to get him out of his own financial and tax troubles…Since ethics probes began last year the 79-year-old congressman has given campaign donations to 119 members of Congress, including three of the five Democrats on the House Ethics Committee who are charged with investigating him.”
Republicans have been calling for Charlie Rangel to lose his Chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee for months, but after last night, Democrats are starting to join in on the chorus.
Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi, the first Democratic lawmaker to echo Republican calls for a change in committee leadership, said Friday that Rangel should “either step down or step aside until this is resolved.”
Others who have joined in on the calls for Rangel to step down include Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) and Alabama Democrat Rep. Bobby Bright. Rep. Mike Quigley, the Democrat who took over Rahm Emanuel’s old House seat, renewed his calls for Rangel to step down as chairman.
“I learned that ethics is nonpartisan — each party should stand on its own,” Quigley said in a brief interview. “The history of this place is that mistakes are made on both sides. So for any side to try to argue that they’re more pure than the other is silliness.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the self-proclaimed most powerful woman in the world, continued defending Rangel as she has done since these scandals began to break. She said the committee found that Rangel “did not willfully break the rules.”
At a press conference Thursday night, Rangel blamed his staff and called the committee’s ruling “disturbing.”
“I don’t want to be critical of the committee,” he said. “But common sense dictates that members of Congress shouldn’t be held responsible for what could be mistakes by staff unless there’s reason to believe the member knew or should have known.”
Rangel refused to take questions and brushed off a reporter who asked if he will step aside as chair of the committee.
“If you ask any questions, that would just embarrass me because I can’t give you any answers,” Rangel said. “You got the scoop.”
If Nancy Pelosi was really serious about her pledge about this being the most honest Congress in history, she has to do the right thing, and begin stripping Rangel of his power.