Rangel Goes on Attack Over Post Story
Rep. Charles Rangel (D) defended himself today against allegations that he improperly solicited donations for a new center named after him in New York, calling on the House ethics committee to investigate him and excoriating Capitol Briefing's employer in the process.
Rangel convened a press conference this morning to address the questions raised by a Washington Post story about his fundraising and steering of federal money to the nascent Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York. You can read the full transcript of the press conference here, but suffice it to say that Rangel was not too happy with the Post story or a subsequent editorial published today.
"First of all, I normally advise people, as I have been advised, not to respond to these allegations that I abused my congressional discretion in writing on behalf of a school institution named after me because it would blow over; or, as more often I've advised members, that remember you don't have as much ink as the printers do," Rangel said. "So one of the things that I would use, hoping that it might catch on, is that I'm going to see how much damn ink The Washington Post has."
(An aside: The Washington Post has an enormous amount of ink, most of it stashed in a Strategic Ink Reserve hidden in a hollowed-out mountain in West Virginia. Capitol Briefing, however, writes a blog and technically works for washingtonpost.com, so he uses none of it. End of digression.)
After calling the charges "unfounded" and the Post story "foundless," Rangel got to the heart of the matter: Whether it was appropriate for him to use official congressional letterhead to arrange meetings with potential donors to the Rangel Center.
"As to the allegations, I challenge The Washington Post -- and if you can find some word a little stronger than that -- to show one line in any of the letters that I have sent out on behalf of the City College institution, which their board of directors decided to name after me, where there's a solicitation for funds," Rangel said. "In all of the letters that were sent to not-for-profit foundations, rather than as they say to people who may have business before my committee, I encourage them to meet with City College to learn more about the program."
As Capitol Briefing explored in more detail in a previous post, the letters Rangel sent to potential donors do not, in fact, contain specific solicitations for money. They say that Rangel simply wants to discuss his "vision" for the center, which he calls "a personal dream of mine."
But even though the letters don't mention donations, they still may be worthy of ethics committee scrutiny. The House ethics manual says that official House resources, including stationery, "must be used for the performance of official business of the House, and hence those resources may not be used for campaign or political purposes." Does raising money for the center constitute "official business of the House"?
Rangel himself said today, as he did yesterday, that he welcomed an ethics inquiry into that very question. In fact, he even encouraged the Post to make such a probe happen. Let's go back to the transcript, specifically of an exchange Rangel had with a Post reporter who was present:
RANGEL: Let me ask you one question: Would you help me to get this before the Ethics Committee by asking The Washington Post to file the charges?
Let me just ask them. They may not do it.
Let the record indicate that the reporter from The Washington Post failed to respond.
QUESTION: Sir, I think you carry more weight with the Ethics Committee than I do.
RANGEL: I think I carry more weight than you...
... but I'm testing barrels of ink, that's all.
QUESTION: I haven't got any barrels with me.
(Another aside: The Washington Post can't "file charges" with the House ethics committee, nor can any other outside entity. Only a House member can file a complaint against another member, or the ethics panel can choose to start an inquiry of its own volition.)
As for what was discussed at these meetings Rangel arranged, the New York lawmaker wasn't entirely clear. He said the purpose of the meetings was to bring business and foundation leaders together with City College officials to discuss the Rangel Center, but wouldn't quite answer whether he ever specifically asked anyone for money at the meetings. As for whether the "appearance" of what Rangel did was Kosher, let's return one last time to the transcript:
QUESTION: Do you think that meeting with business people who do have interests before the committee creates at least an appearance of a problem?
RANGEL: I don't want to get involved in some subjective stuff. I want to get involved -- did I violate the spirit of the law and any ethical standards that we have in the House of Representatives? After that, if you got nothing else to do, we'll talk about my appearance.
QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, isn't -- is an appearance sometimes in politics reality? Isn't that sometimes...
RANGEL: Yes, but I wasn't trained in all that psychiatric crap about what is reality and what is -- what the hell?
If there are people that can bring in some witnesses about how they look at me and what they think about me after 50 years in politics, for me to separate whether or not I'm as great as they think there is and separating appearances from reality, I don't know. I really don't know.
All I'm saying is that, because it's objective, the record should be abundantly clear by the Ethics Committee in terms of what you can, cannot, should not do, and say, even though it's not criminal as relates to the representative of the House of Representatives, it may have an appearance of impropriety or whatever else they may think.
But since I'm convinced that The Washington Post is only doing this to spin (ph) ink and would not push this thing in front of the ethics committee, as I am, then I'm using this forum to charge the Ethics -- strike that -- to ask the Ethics Committee to clear the air so that this question of what a member can or cannot do on official stationery will be cleared up.
Rangel, by the way, wasn't the only House Democrat to hold a press conference this morning. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) also convened her weekly briefing, during which she was asked what she thought of Rangel asking for an ethics committee probe. "I support his request," she said.
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