Rangel Walks Out of Ethics Hearing

Former House Ways and Means chairman says he needs more time to replace counsel. His Capitol Hill ethics trial went ahead without him.

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Rangel leaves ethics trial. (AFP/Getty Images)

UPDATE: Despite pleas from the accused for a delay, the House ethics trial of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) went ahead as planned Monday. The eight-member committee of four Democrats and four Republicans met behind closed doors after Rangel asked for more time to replace his attorneys, and they voted to go on with the trial. The Harlem congressman caused a sensation when he walked out of the hearing room after less than an hour, complaining that he did not have adequate representation or the money to hire a new legal team. His previous counsel withdrew from the case after reportedly disagreeing on tactics with the 40-year House veteran. 

Rep. Charles Rangel walked out of his House ethics trial this morning, claiming he needed more time to hire an attorney to represent him. The Harlem congressman's surprising move came after the committee turned down his request for more time to replace an attorney who had withdrawn from the case. Rangel is facing 13 charges of ethics violation.

Saying that he has not had time secure legal counsel and that House rules prevent him from raising the money for a defense fund before the deadline that the ethics committee has given him,  Rangel left the hearing room this morning less than an hour after it had begun. Rangel said he didn't have the money to hire new counsel after spending $2 million preparing his defense with his previous attorneys. The attorneys withdrew after clashes with Rangel over defense tactics, including his decision to deliver a 30-minute speech on the House floor against their advice. 

The House trial on corruption charges is the first such event since 2002. Four Democrats and four Republicans were scheduled to hear testimony.

 "You tell me all things that I could do, but you're not going to give me time to do it. I think no one can say that that's not the way this ends up,"he said. "Yes, I can do these things, but you have to conclude this now, and the next day," he said, jabbing a finger down at the table for emphasis. "And my reputation, 50 years of public service, has to suffer because this committee has concluded you must conclude this matter before this Congress ends. And all I'm asking for is time to get counsel ... and you're saying now, I think, that you denied it before and you're denying it now." 

A short time later he said, "I object to the proceeding, and with all due respect, since I don't have counsel to advise me, I'm going to have to excuse myself from these proceedings. I have no idea what [counsel for the committee] has put together over two years that was given to me last week, and I just hope that the history of this committee, in terms of fairness, would be judged for what it is." 

Charges were brought against Rangel for a series of allegations, including improper use of House stationery to raise money for a university center to be named after him, using rent-controlled apartments in Harlem as offices and failing to pay taxes on a vacation property in the Dominican Republic. A 40-year House veteran, Rangel easily won re-election in the midterms despite the charges against him.