Can Rep. Charlie Rangel Bring Down the Democratic Party?

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by Christopher Beam

Rep. Charlie Rangel had to decide on Thursday which he cares about more: his party or his job.


The answer, for now: his job. As the House ethics committee prepared to read its 13 charges against Rangel—the culmination of a two-year investigation—there was a flurry of reports that Rangel would strike a deal with the committee and thereby avoid an embarrassing trial in September. But the deal didn't materialize in time, and the hearing proceeded. Rangel, a 20-term Democrat, could still strike a bargain, but it would require approval from one of the committee's five Republicans. And during the hearing, at least, they didn't sound ready to make a deal. "Congressman Rangel was given the opportunity to negotiate a settlement in the investigation phase," said Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the committee's ranking Republican. "We are now in the trial phase."

The prospect of a September trial represents a Worst Case Scenario for Democrats. It would showcase a prominent Democrat's alleged ethical failings two months before the midterm elections, boosting the GOP case that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has failed in her promise to "drain the swamp" of corruption in Washington. (The 13 charges include allegations that he used public rent-controlled housing for campaign work, failed to report $75,000 in income on a villa in the Dominican Republic, and used congressional letterhead to solicit donations for a City College educational center named after him.) Some Democrats have quietly pushed Rangel to make a deal. At least three have urged him to resign.

But Rangel seems to think he has a shot at winning. All along, he has insisted that he didn't intentionally break any House rules or statutes. And that may well be true. A plea deal would probably require him to admit wrongdoing.

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