Published: November 15, 2010 - New York Times
Mr. Rangel, who appeared at the inquiry alone, stunned the packed hearing room by walking out after complaining that he had no lawyer because he could not afford the millions of dollars in legal fees he had racked up during the two-year investigation.
After declaring that “I respectfully withdraw from these proceedings,” Mr. Rangel shook hands with the lawyers for the ethics committee who were preparing to lay out the case against him and strode steadily out of the room. But after meeting privately, committee members resumed the proceedings without Mr. Rangel, a Democrat who has represented Harlem for four decades.
In a rebuke to Mr. Rangel, members noted that he had been advised repeatedly, starting as early as September 2008, that he was well within his rights to set up a defense fund to raise money for his legal expenses. Mr. Rangel and his defense team from the firm Zuckerman Spaeder parted ways several weeks ago.
With Mr. Rangel’s chair empty, the committee’s chief counsel presented what he said was “uncontested evidence” that the congressman’s fund-raising and failure to disclose his assets or pay taxes on a Dominican villa had violated Congressional rules.
The members of the ethics committee were expected to decide later Monday whether there were enough facts to support the charges against Mr. Rangel.
Acting as a kind of prosecutor in the case, the committee’s chief counsel, R. Blake Chisam, said Mr. Rangel had not contested most of the facts in the case even when he had a lawyer defending him.
In a 20-minute summary of the evidence, Mr. Chisam presented letters, e-mail and financial documents to corroborate the charges. And although Mr. Rangel was not present, his booming voice still rung through the hearing room as the committee lawyers played videos of him admitting to several of the charges during an impromptu speech he made on the House floor this summer, pleading for mercy from his colleagues.
“You can’t get so carried away with good intentions that you break the rules,” Mr. Rangel said in one excerpt played during the hearing.
After taking questions from committee members, Mr. Chisam said that the record was so clear that there was no need to call witnesses, because Mr. Rangel had never challenged the essential elements of the case against him.
“The record is the record,” Mr. Chisam said. “The facts are the fact. The time has come for a vote.”