The investigation of Representative Charles Rangel for violation of Congressional fund-raising rules has been going on for two years. The hearing before the House ethics committee — which Mr. Rangel insisted would exonerate him — has been scheduled for weeks. Yeton Monday, the day the hearing began, Mr. Rangel demanded a delay, claiming he needed to raise money for a new lawyer. When the committee refused, he walked out the door and into a new embarrassment.
There is no reason why the New York Democrat should have been unprepared to mount a defense. He said his defense team, from the firm of Zuckerman Spaeder, dropped him a month ago when he warned he might not be able to find enough money in his campaign fund to pay them for the hearing. But as the committee chairwoman, Zoe Lofgren, pointed out, the committee has repeatedly advised Mr. Rangel since 2008 that he could set up a defense fund to raise the money, which he has not done.
Instead, Mr. Rangel chose to grandstand. In remarks drenched in self-pity, he cited his 50 years of public service, his military record, his love of country. In a bid to discredit the proceedings, and likely verdict, he actually suggested that the committee was trying to deny him a lawyer, as if its members had anything to do with his predicament.
He certainly should know that House rules prohibit pro bono lawyers in such circumstances to avoid the appearance of legal favoritism, and that anyone who faces the committee had better find a way to pay for a good defense. The committee was right to proceed without him. By the end of the day, it had agreed that the facts presented about his violations were not in dispute.
Mr. Rangel is not facing expulsion or criminal charges. About the worst that can happen to him is a reprimand. The lawyer acting as the committee’s “prosecutor” said Monday that Mr. Rangel had been sloppy in his finances and in following reporting rules, not corrupt.
We think that the 13 ethics charges against the congressman — including the acceptance of four rent-stabilized apartments and the failure to pay taxes on a chunk of his income — are more serious than simple sloppiness. But if he had apologized to the House and accepted his knuckle-rap, he would have been spared the hearing. Now he has raised even more questions about his fitness to represent his district.