Democratic Ethics Trouble

Instead of focusing on issues they want to talk about at the end of next week, House Democrats will likely find the news media zeroing in on ethics charges against Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY).

The actual statement of findings by the ethics panel will be released next week, but that didn’t stop Republicans from quickly going on the attack.

“The fact that Speaker Pelosi has allowed this to drag on for 2 years is an even more egregious ethical violation on the part of this Congress,” said Rep. John Carter (R-TX), who has been the most dogged accuser of Rangel.

What’s next is a public hearing and trial phase, where the charges will be aired, and where Rangel will get the chance to defend himself.

This is a very rare step.

Only three such public ethics hearings come to my mind immediately, though I’m sure there have probably been more.

The last one was with Rep. Jim Traficant (D-OH) in 2002; then I go back to 1997 and ethics hearings on Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), and the other for House Speaker Jim Wright (D-TX) back in 1989.

All three men ended up leaving the Congress under an ethical cloud.  Traficant was expelled by a vote of the full House, only the second lawmaker to be booted out since the Civil War.

Let’s take a quick refresher on the allegations lodged against Rangel.

It has been alleged that Rangel – the former Chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee – failed to pay taxes on property he owns in the Carribean, failed to report income on his taxes totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and misused several rent-controlled apartments in his New York district.

Next week, Democratic leaders will want to talk about jobs and how they have tried to boost the economy.

The press corps will want to focus on Rangel’s troubles and how that reflects on House Democrats, just before the House is going to head home until after Labor Day.

And Republicans will be more than happy to throw some gasoline on the Rangel Ethical Fire.