The House ethics committee ruled Monday that there was evidence to support 13 counts of misconduct by Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., and began considering whether to formally convict and recommend punishment against him.
The ruling came after a dramatic and puzzling appearance by Rangel, 80, in which he protested that he could no longer afford to pay his lawyers and indignantly walked out of the proceedings, calling them unfair.
Committee members were unmoved. Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., noted dryly that Rangel was responsible for paying his own lawyers and that he had been advised by the committee beginning in 2008 to form a legal defense fund to do so.
With Rangel absent, the panel listened to its chief counsel as he methodically presented the evidence against Rangel, which was based on 549 exhibits, dozens of witness interviews and thousands of pages of financial documents. Members then met in executive session and later announced they had found the facts in the charges against Rangel to be “uncontested.”
Those charges included accusations that Rangel had accepted rent stabilized apartments from a Manhattan developer, failed to pay income taxes on rent from a Dominican villa and solicited charitable donations from individuals with business before Congress.
Rangel’s decision not to mount a public defense startled some members of the committee; the congressman has been publicly expressing his eagerness to tell his side of the story for more than a year, and promising his constituents that he could disprove the allegations.
But the walkout spared Rangel, a proud and sensitive man, of the embarrassment of being publicly confronted with the unsavory details of the case.