WASHINGTON (CN) – Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., walked out of his own ethics trial Monday, claiming the House Ethics Committee was denying his right to counsel by demanding that the hearing be completed before the end of the session in December. The trial continued without him.
“I don’t think it’s fair that I participate in any type of proceedings if … the political calendar will not allow you enough time to allow me to get a lawyer,” Rangel said at the opening of the hearing before the House Ethics Adjudicatory Subcommittee.
“Since I don’t have counsel to advise me, I am going to have to excuse myself from these proceedings,” he said.
Rangel asked the committee to postpone the hearing until he could obtain a lawyer. The committee went into a closed session, and then reconvened without Rangel, denying his request for delay.
Rangel said he could not afford counsel, arguing that he has paid $2 million for legal services since the committee launched their investigation of Rangel 2008, and the hearing would cost him another $1 million. Rangel’s previous counsel withdrew in October. Rangel also said he has been denied the opportunity to set up a legal defense fund.
In July, Rangel was accused of 13 counts of ethics violations, including breaking House solicitation, gift and credibility rules.
Rangel has been accused of using congressional letterhead to solicit donations for a center bearing his name at the City College of New York, using a rent-stabilized apartment designated “for living purposes only” as a campaign office for more than a decade, failing to report rental income from a beach villa in the Dominican Republic on federal tax returns, and failing to accurately report income on annual disclosure forms.
Rangel stepped down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee following the allegations.
He said Monday that he was refusing to represent himself, having learned from his experience as a lawyer that it was “not a good idea” to proceed without counsel. “I’m here as a respondent,” he said.
Subcommittee Chair Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said the committee was told more than a month ago that Rangel’s counsel withdrew and decided to proceed with the hearing despite the fact that Rangel had not obtained another lawyer.
“I deem his comments to be a motion to continue,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., said after Rangel’s statement. The committee broke to consider the motion.
When the committee reconvened, with Rangel absent, Blake Chisam, chief counsel for the committee, detailed the allegations and asked the subcommittee to vote on the violations.
“Respondent has not contested the evidence,” Chisam said. “There are no genuine issues as to any material facts in this case. As a result, the case is ripe for a decision.”
When asked by Butterfield if Chisam saw evidence of corruption or that Rangel had been motivated by personal financial gain, Chisam said he saw no corruption, but could not say whether Rangel was motivated by personal gain.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., asked if Chisam had compared Rangel’s raising funds for the City College of New York to the money raised by other members of Congress for educational institutions. Chisam said he had not.
Still, Chisam said, the committee had “ample” facts that would lead it to find violations in Rangel’s case.
“You are able to make a decision,” he told the committee.
The adjudicatory subcommittee will next vote on each of the 13 counts. If the subcommittee finds no violations, it will prepare a report for the full ethics committee.
If the subcommittee finds any violations, it will report its findings to the full ethics committee, which will hold a public sanctions hearing to determine what, if any, action to take against Rangel. Rangel could face expulsion if the committee finds him guilty of violations.
“Sitting in judgment of a fellow member and colleague is a very difficult thing for all of us to do,” said subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas. “We serve for not other reason than to protect the honor and credibility of this institution.”
“These allegations, if proven, would demonstrate that Mr. Rangel violated multiple House rules,” he said.
The committee held a closed session throughout the afternoon.
The hearings follow a 21-month-long investigation during which the subcommittee interviewed close to 50 witnesses and sifted through nearly 28,000 pages of documents.
Rangel, 80, represents New York’s 15th District.