Keen observers of the D.C. circus have been eagerly anticipating the day when Charles Rangel (D-NY 15) would finally take the stand in his own defense on a laundry list of ethics charges. On a cloudy day in November, the wait finally came to an end.
All the players were in place. The ethics panel, led by Congressman Zoe Lofgren (a fellow Democrat from California), had allotted a full ten hours for the elder Harlem statesman to mount his defense against a variety of allegations. Some dealt with rent-controlled apartments of dubious utilization and properties he owns in the Caribbean, but most stemmed from his vigorous fundraising efforts on behalf of the Charles Rangel Center for the Advancement of Charles Rangel.
(I’m sorry … I’m being told by the editor that the proper name for the facility is the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York.)
Many of Congressman Rangel’s colleagues from both sides of the aisle were in attendance. No expense had been spared in expert consultants, with Abbe Lowell — an attorney who represented Bill Clinton during his 1998 impeachment — standing by to mount a vigorous defense. All that was missing was Raymond Burr in a wheelchair, ready to roll forward and decry the unjust system seeking to bring down a venerable voice of the people.
And at last the moment had arrived. Charlie took the stand to clear his good name, but his opening was more of a surprise than anyone had anticipated. After declaring that he required more time to prepare his legal footing (ignoring the fact that this process has been playing out for a couple of years now), Congressman Rangel pulled the equivalent of grabbing two beers and heading for the emergency exit slide.
Charlie Rangel walked out the door.
“All I am asking for is fairness,” Rangel later said. “Can you tell me under what theory of fairness would dictate that I be denied due process, that I be denied an attorney, because it’s going to be the end of the session? How far does this go to a person not having counsel, not having due process, because we don’t have the time?”
Some of our readers might be thinking that such a response sounds rather crazy. But I maintain it’s simply crazy like a fox.
As I wrote in this space back in July, Rangel has very little to worry about. The panel will do little more at this point than to pass some recommendations on to full committee and, eventually, the entire House of Representatives. And even then his prospects hardly seem dim. Blake Chisam, ethics committee attorney, has already weighed in on the likely outcome:
“I see no evidence of corruption. It’s hard to answer the question of personal financial benefit. I think the short answer is probably no. Do I believe that based on the record that Congressman Rangel took steps to benefit himself based on his position in Congress? No. I believe that the congressman, quite frankly, was overzealous in many of the things he did. And sloppy in his personal finances.”
Rangel has been playing this game longer than everyone assembled to judge him and he knows how this will end. There’s simply no way that he sees himself getting expelled from the House of Representatives. The most he could possibly receive is a censure, and what of it? All of these allegations have long since been made public and he still won reelection on Nov. 2 with 79.9% of the vote. (Also as previously predicted here.)
Charlie owns the 15th District lock, stock, and barrel. And while he’s made a few slips in his later years in terms of covering his tracks, he doesn’t seem to have left any glaring openings for his detractors to pin him down on actionable charges. (At least not under current congressional rules.)
The laughable nature of his request for more preparation time was delivered in his usual, serious fashion. Like the quintessential used car salesman he will continue to insist that any misunderstandings about the product were entirely beyond his control, no matter how many lemons he has shipped to his customers.
A public trial, no matter how long he was given to make his case, is the last thing Mr. Rangel needs or desires. It would only drag out the sordid details of matters he clearly does not wish to discuss. So was he really all that foolish to walk out of the hearing? Hardly. By cutting the process down to an abbreviated referral he pushes it toward its inevitable conclusion all the more quickly and gets back to business as usual.
Charlie Rangel isn’t going anywhere until either he is ready to retire or the Lord determines his time is up. That may come as unpleasant news to those pushing for the antiseptic of sunshine in government affairs, but it’s the reality we face. Charlie Rangel knows this game very well and he’s playing to win.