Rangel recuses self from ethics hearing

By The Associated Press

The House ethics trial for New York Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel is now missing one important figure in the case: Charlie Rangel.

The congressman showed up for the first day of the scheduled proceeding without his lawyers and blasted the committee for dragging the inquiry out past the point where he could afford representation.

He asked for a delay, but was denied the request.

Rangel, who faces 13 ethics violations, said he paid $2 million over the past two years for lawyers, but could not afford the estimated $1 million in legal feels required for the present House ethics trial.

“Fifty years of public service are… on the line…. I truly believe I’m not being treated fairly,” Rangel said. “I am entitled to a lawyer during this hearing.”

Rangel blasted the committee for the protracted hearing, noting that he would have preferred that the panel settle the charges against him before his Democratic primary or even before the general election.

A House investigation concluded in June that Rangel improperly solicited donations for his center and New York’s City College, failed to provide complete financial disclosure information and improperly used a rent-controlled apartment for campaign purposes.

Committee rules state that a member facing violations may choose to hire counsel but is not required to do so. But as Rangel notes, he would be at a disadvantage without representation.

“I’ve been a lawyer long enough to know it’s very very unwise for any person… to be his own lawyer at a proceeding like this,” Rangel told the committee.

He further denounced the committee for claiming it didn’t have the time to begin the trial, but suggesting now, when its members find it convenient, that it would like to quickly resolve the matter. Rangel said he has been offered free representation, but has been informed that such advocacy constitutes a gift and would violate House rules.

Rangel suggested he would recuse himself, so members moved into a closed session to decide how to proceed after this surprise development.

They returned less than an hour later to announce that the trial would proceed but they also laid into Rangel’s lawyers, saying that Rangel’s legal team had ditched the lawmaker on the eve of the hearing.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) expressed his “astonishment” with the litigation specialists Rangel had retained at Zuckerman Spaeder “for taking the money, draining the money and then kicking their client to the side of the road.”

(Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)