One of the big national political stories of the week is the ethics trial of New York congressman Charles Rangel who is accused of 13 counts of financial and fundraising misconduct.
Rangel is the focus of the investigation, but the person in charge of the trial is San Jose Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and it was the back and forth between Rangel and Lofgren that proved to be the true political theater of the day.
Lofgren refused to delay the trial even though Rangel pleaded with the committee members to give him time to raise money for a lawyer.
"You may hire whoever you wish as a lawyer," Lofgren told Rangel. "That is up to you."
She added that because Congress will soon adjourn, time was an issue and therefore the trial could not be delayed.
Rangel responded that his fate should not depend on the congressional calendar. He told Lofgren, "I object to the proceedings, and I, with all due respect, since I don't have counsel to advise me, I'm going to have to excuse myself from these proceedings."
With that, the 80-year-old Harlem congressman left knowing the trial would go on without him.
On the line for Rangel is a possible formal condemnation.
The Associated Press breaks down the alleged violations this way:
- A House gift ban and restrictions on solicitations. Rangel is accused of using congressional staff, letterhead and workspace to seek donations for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York. The requests usually went to charitable arms of businesses with issues before Congress, including Rangel's Ways and Means Committee.
- A U.S. government code of ethics. Several allegations fall under this code, among them: accepting favors (the Rangel Center donations) that could be construed as influencing Rangel's congressional duties; acceptance of a rent-subsidized New York apartment used as a campaign office, when the lease said it was for residential use only, and failure to report taxable income.
- The Ethics in Government Act and a companion House rule requiring "full and complete" public reports of a congressman's income, assets and liabilities each year. Rangel is charged with a pattern of submitting incomplete and inaccurate disclosure statements. He filed amended reports covering 1998 to 2007 only after the investigative ethics panel began looking into his disclosures. He belatedly reported at least $600,000 in assets.