New York Democrat Charles Rangel made a last-minute effort Tuesday to settle his ethics case and prevent a House trial that could embarrass him and damage the Democratic Party.
The talks between Rangel's lawyer and the House ethics committee's nonpartisan attorneys were confirmed by ethics Chairman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. Lofgren said she is not involved in the talks, and added that the committee's lawmakers have always accepted the professional staff's recommendations in previous plea bargains.
Rangel, a 40-year House veteran who is 80 years old, would have to admit to multiple, substantial ethics violations for any plea bargain to be accepted. Earlier negotiations broke down when Rangel would only admit to some allegations — not enough to satisfy the committee lawyers, according to people familiar with those talks who were not authorized to be quoted by name.
If the talks are not successful, trial proceedings for the Harlem congressman would begin Thursday with a reading of alleged ethics violations that are still confidential.
An equally divided, eight-member subcommittee led by Lofgren would then conduct the actual trial later and decide whether the charges are proved by clear and convincing evidence.
The members are separate from the four-member investigative panel that charged Rangel, the former Ways and Means Committee chairman, with multiple violations connected to his fundraising, financial disclosure and failure to pay taxes on income from a resort unit.
If the case ends with either a plea bargain or a finding of guilt, the ethics committee would make a decision on punishment that could range from a critical report, to a censure by the House or an expulsion vote.
In previous cases, the only matter to go through a trial was the case of former Rep. Jim Traficant of Ohio, who was expelled by a 420-1 vote in 2002. He went to prison after his conviction for racketeering and bribery.
Some Democrats have called for Rangel to resign. Others have returned money he raised for them. Many Democrats are worried that they'll be responding to negative campaign ads about Rangel if a trial gets under way in September.
An ethics case against former Republican Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, involving his suggestive e-mails to former male pages, coincided with the 2006 campaign and was among the reasons the GOP lost control of the House.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who was not confirming any negotiations, told reporters Tuesday, "I think everybody would like to have it go away in the sense that this is not a pleasant process."
The Maryland Democrat said he didn't know what Rangel's decision would be.
"Mr. Rangel has to do what Mr. Rangel believes is appropriate and proper," he said.
Lofgren said she's been peppered with questions by lawmakers about the negotiations.
"People want to know, am I doing a deal? The answer is no," Lofgren said. "I don't know whether it's possible or not. The professional staff can arrange a settlement."
A House investigative committee last week approved multiple alleged violations against Rangel. People familiar with charges, who were not authorized to be quoted, said they related in part, to:
—Rangel's use of official stationery to raise money for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York.
—His use of four rent-subsidized apartment units in New York City.
—Rangel's failure to report income as required on his annual financial disclosure forms. The committee had investigated his failure to report income from the lawmaker's rental unit at the Punta Cana Yacht Club in the Dominican Republic. Rangel also belatedly disclosed between $239,000 and $831,000 in investment assets.
—His failure to pay taxes on all his income from the resort unit.
—A possible role in preserving a tax shelter for an oil drilling company, Nabors Industries, whose chief executive donated money to the Rangel Center while Ways and Means considered the loophole legislation.
Associated Press Writer Ann Sanner contributed to this story.
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