Video courtesy of C-SPAN
In an unprecedented 31-minute speech on the House floor done against the advice of lawyers and friends, Rep. Charlie Rangel, attacked head on the allegations against him and the process under which he said he’s suffered unfairly.
Rangel seemed to indicate that he’s fired his lawyers, telling them he can no longer afford counsel having spent “nearly $2 million” defending himself over the last two years. “Each and every day expenses build up. And I think that I have an obligation to younger members of Congress to be able to tell them that if you couldn’t raise the $2 million, you’re out of business no matter what the allegations are because no one’s going to read the defense,” Rangel said. He repeatedly apologized for any embarrassment his speech might cause the leadership and his colleagues but he remained defiant in the face of the 13 charges a House Standards subcommittee unveiled against him last month. At least ten members have called on Rangel to resign and t least 46 members and candidates have either given his donations back to him or given the money to charity. Some Democrats have worried that an open ethics trial held so close to the midterms could hurt members already struggling at the polls. “I don’t want be awkward and embarrass any body,” Rangel said. “As a matter a fact those people that believe that their election is going to be dependent on me resigning, I’d like to encourage Democrats who believe it, I think Republicans have given you enough reason to get reelected.”
The speech was rambling and, at times, nonsensical. Rangel seemed to get lost in the nitty gritty of some of the charges that anyone not intimate with the case – and even those fairly intimate with the case — would’ve had trouble following his train of thought. At times he seemed to admit mistakes but he seemed to be more mocking the charges and mocking the “mistakes” he’d made. His ultimate defense for the three general complaints (that are divvied up into 13 formal charges) levied against him.
Charge 1: That he inappropriately used congressional letterhead to fundraise for the Charles Rangel Center for Public Service at City College and that in doing so created the appearance on impropriety and a conflict of interest when some corporations were giving money to his center just as he was making decisions on tax policy that could affect them.
Rangel: “Now a lot of people have done that — doesn’t mean it’s right – but the rules have changed and so there has to be a penalty for grabbing the wrong stationary and not really doing the right thing. It’s not corrupt, it may be stupid, it may be negligent, but it’s not corrupt.”
Charge 2: That he used a rent-controlled apartment intended for residential use as his offices.
Rangel: “The benefit was that your colleague and friend was not sensitive to the fact that there was appearances, though, that I was being treated differently than anyone else. But the landlord said he didn’t treat me any differently. No one said that they did treat me differently. But I have to admit that I wasn’t sensitive to anything because I never felt that I was treated any differently than anybody else. And so that ends the apartment thing, but I plead guilty for not being sensitive.”
Charge 3: That he didn’t declare the purchase of a vacation rental home in the Dominican Republican and rental income from it.
“The fact that there was negligence on the part of the person [his accountant] who for 20 years did it and the fact that I signed it, that’s not really giving an excuse as to why I should not apologize to this body for not paying the attention to it, that I should’ve paid to it. But there is no, not one scintilla bit of evidence that the negligence involved in the disclosures that there was some way to to to hide from the public what I had.”
Though he admitted mistakes, Rangel seemed outraged that anyone suggest that he take the Standards Committee proposed reprimand – a relative slap on the wrist which would seem a fitting punishment for the charges. “Somehow the chairman of the subcommittee of investigation indicated that I had received a lot of offers to settle this thing so that it would not cause embarrassment to our Democratic friends and that I’d been offered a reprimand and that a lot of people thought it sounded like I’d been offered a wonderful opportunity to remove this so that I could leave the Congress with some dignity,” Rangel said. “I’m all for disagreements. I love the debates. I love the arguments, but you’re not gonna tell me to resign to make you feel comfortable.”
Rangel also accused the committee of dragging the process out for two years – though the committee made it clear in the hearing that they felt Rangel’s lawyers had unnecessarily delayed the process. “Heck, people are concerned about me, I’m 80 years old, I don’t want to die before the hearing,” Rangel quipped.
He was clearly bothered by President Obama’s remarks last weekend saying that the 40-year incumbent should be allowed to end his career “with dignity.” At times Rangel named Obama, saying he remains one of the President’s strongest supporters. At other times, it was hard to discern if Rangel was addressing Obama or using the term, Mr. President, to refer to the House’s presiding officer, as is custom. He wandered into his support of Obama’s trade policy, and his problems with the Korean and Columbian fee trade deals before the Ways & Means Committee. He underlined his support for education – ahem, his support for New York’s City College – and said that his new retirement quest will be to stop those accused around the country from cutting plea deals when they’re really innocent. An excerpt:
Something that I will spend my retiring years doing, aside from education which is my major thrust here, is that those of you that have come anywhere near criminal courts know we have a terrible thing that happens throughout the United States and that is that someone gets arrested for a very serious crime and they get a lawyer and the lawyer explains that, ‘I think it’s better that you plead guilty to a lesser crime.’ And he says, ‘Well, I’m not only not guilty but I don’t even know what’s involved here.’ And they say, ‘Well, listen, we don’t think you should plead guilty if you’re innocent but we think you ought to know that this judge, if you’re found guilty, is going to send you away for 20 years. On the other hand you have no offense, you’re a first offender so if you could just forget about this thing and explain later.’ And so he continues to tell his lawyer, ‘Hey, I’m willing to admit, I’ve done something things wrong but wouldn’t have to—?’ Any way, the lawyers say, ‘We’d never tell you to quit or resign, we’re telling you it’s not an issue.’ But knowing the President as I do I think he means that everybody is entitled to be judged for the allegations against them.
In a nutshell, Rangel made it clear he was angry, that he wanted his day in court, that, although he was guilty of some minor transgressions a minor punishment was unacceptable and that he’s not going to back down. “But if I can’t get my dignity back here, then fire your best shot in getting rid of me through expulsion,” he railed. “Now I apologize for any embarrassment that I have caused. I’m prepared to admit and try to let young people know that you never get to big to recognize that these rules are for you and your members, as they are for senior members and that you can’t get so carried away with good intentions that you break the rules, because the rules are there to make certain that we have some order, some discipline and respect for the rules. And I violated that. And I’m apologizing for it. And I don’t think apologies mean that this is a light matter. It’s very serious. But corruption? No evidence. No suggestion that this was ever found.”