After A Bizarre Day, Rangel Ethics Trial Ends

There was bound to be entertainment during Charlie Rangel's Ethics Committee hearing, and the Harlem Congressman did not disappoint this morning.

I suppose we should have expected that Charlie Rangel would make a splash at the House Ethics Committee hearing on the 13 charges against him, and Rangel certainly didn’t disappoint:

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) pleaded with a House panel Monday to delay his long-awaited public trial on corruption charges, saying he needed time to find a new lawyer, but his request was rejected and the session went ahead without him.

The panel later deemed the charges against Rangel to be “uncontested” and decided to deliberate on them, dispensing with the trial phase of the case.

In the hearing, conducted by an eight-member panel of Rangel’s congressional peers, Rangel faced allegations that he broke congressional rules in his personal finances and his fundraising efforts for a New York college. He and his previous legal team parted ways last month.

“I object to the proceeding,” Rangel told the House panel. “With all due respect, since I don’t have counsel to advise me, I’m going to have to excuse myself from these proceedings.”

He said he cannot afford a lawyer at present because his campaign account has been depleted.

The panel later went into a three-hour closed session and emerged to announce a unanimous decision to end the trial phase, moving into deliberations on the 13 counts of Rangel’s alleged violations.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who chairs the full House ethics committee, said the panel found that the case presented by committee staff, including 549 exhibits, would be considered “uncontested factual record.” She said the eight lawmakers now would deliberate and vote on the 13 counts. “No material fact is in dispute,” Lofgren said.

The panel needs to find “clear and convincing evidence” that a violation has occurred, she noted. The next phase of deliberations will occur in private with no time limit. A public declaration will come once the panel members have voted on all 13 counts. Any finding of guilt will be sent to the full ethics committee, which is in charge of administering sanctions against Rangel.

Here’s video of part of Rangel’s bizarre monologue:

It was an absurd argument, of course. Rangel has been aware of these charges for two months now, and he’s had more than a month to get new counsel since his first set of attorneys announced that they were withdrawing from representation, apparently due to the fact that Rangel was unable or unwilling to pay the trial fee that they had requested. During that time period he participated in pre-trial correspondence with the committee and gave no indication that he was unwilling to represent himself at today’s proceedings. There was really no question that his request for a delay was going to be denied, and his decision to walk out of the hearing was little more than grandstanding, albeit grandstanding that probably played well with the constituents back home who have apparently bought into his characterization of himself as a victim.

There’s no telling how long it’s going to take the Ethics Committee to reach a decision here, although we’ll presumably hear something before the end of the lame duck session. In the end, though, I doubt Rangel is any serious danger of being expelled from the House at this point. At most, he’ll get a Congressional censure. And, if he decides to run for re-election in 2012, he’ll probably be re-elected.

There’s something wrong about that, but frankly the blame lies as much with the voters in Rangel’s district as it does with the Congressman.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. The “Oh, you mean is this really going forward today? Then I need time to get a lawyer!” defense is never successful in any of the courts I practice in. I don’t see any reason why Rangel should get treated any differently.

  2. I was watching the beginning of the hearing this morning in the office. Rangel’s plea sounded exactly like what I hear from a pro se Defendant who turns out on the day of trial asking for a continuance, or trying to convince the Judge that he shouldn’t be penalized for filing required pleadings.

    It’s pathetic coming from a regular citizen, when it comes from someone like Rangel who has legal training it’s infuriating

  3. floyd says:

    Rangel is truely a clown, a good natured clown and no less honest than the vast majority of his peers. This is not said to excuse him, but his constituents likely will….
    They LOVE this guy, and mostly for sound reasons, he may be a crook but he is their crook!

  4. PD Shaw says:

    Blagojevich made a similar demand for a right to counsel paid for by the government in his impeachment, but was refused. Legal authority was presented for the proposition that impeachment is a polical, not a legal process, and that an elected official does not have a protected interest in his seat.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    Also, Rangel is a lawyer.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    But he’s no fool.

  7. anjin-san says:

    I have no sympathy for this guy. He is part of the problem.

  8. John Burgess says:

    So, he’s no longer swinging in the wind anyway.

  9. Rock says:

    What’s the worst thing that the committee can do to Charlie Rangel? A slap on the wrist? Remember he he has yet to play the race card … will he?

    I’m willing to bet that when Maxine Waters trial comes forward she will hit them with a deck of race cards.

    Maybe I’m jaded by all of this political drama. We’ll see.

  10. ponce says:

    It’s hard to hate a Korean War combat vet.

    The charges against him seem far less serious than the ones that got Duke Cunningham into trouble.

  11. cshpy01 says:

    well……a slap on the wrist is about all that can be expected from the greatest criminal enterprise that ever existed ( the US federal govt) Look at Bernanke – doing everything and more that Madoff got 150 yrs for……true justice would put him behind bars for 1500 yrs

  12. I don’t know about that, cshypo1. When the sentence was handed down, Madoff said, “I’m 70 years old. I can’t possibly serve 150 years.” The judge said, “Do the best you can.” That’s pretty cold stuff, there.

  13. Dave Schuler says:

    Mr. Rangel could end up being the second representative for that district to be ejected from the House in my lifetime.

    Is there a a better embodiment of Hunter Thompson’s wisecrack that when the going gets weird the weird turn pro?

  14. Dave,

    The general consensus seems to be that expulsion is pretty unlikely, especially since that would require a vote from 2/3 of the House. Most likely would be a formal censure, possibly even the less severe punishment of a reprimand, which is basically just a letter from the Ethics Committee.

    At the very least, if Rangel isn’t expelled, I would hope that the Democratic Caucus doesn’t let him resume his post as Ranking Member of the Ways & Means Committee

  15. Dave Schuler says:

    Lèse majesté continues to be the greatest offense. Either Congressman Rangel is supremely confident or he’s treading on thin ice, courting the maximum penalty.