On Monday, a bipartisan House ethics subcommittee declared a set of 13 violations charges against Representative Charles Rangel to be "uncontested," and began weighing the question of whether to convict him. Rangel's ethics trial got off to a colorful start this week, when the Harlem Democrat walked out of the hearing after protesting that he couldn't afford legal counsel. The hearing continued in Rangel's absence, and the eight-member panel found that the evidence supported the charges against Rangel. Now, the ethics committee has to decide whether and how Rangel will be punished. The whole affair has provoked a wave of tongue-clucking from political commentators. (UPDATE: Charles Rangel has been convicted on 11 counts, including failure to disclose assets and failure to report rental income from his Dominican Republic residence. The ethics committee has yet to recommend a punishment.)
The Charges, and the Evidence The New York Times reports that the charges against Rangel "included accusations that Mr. Rangel had accepted rent-stabilized apartments from a Manhattan developer, failed to pay income taxes on rent from a Dominican villa and solicited charitable donations from individuals with business before Congress." The evidence supporting these charges came in the form of "549 exhibits, dozens of witness interviews and thousands of pages of financial documents."
What a Sorry Show, says Dana Milbank of The Washington Post. "This was but the latest act in the ongoing farce known as congressional ethics. Rules are so flexible, and enforcement so lax, that even instances that look like outright influence-buying don't get prosecuted. And there's no sign that the situation will improve, as key figures make noises about abolishing the new Office of Congressional Ethics, a semi-independent body designed to make ethics investigations more transparent."
Rangel Is Shameless, writes Jennifer Rubin at Commentary. "The classic definition of chutzpah is a defendant who murders his parents and throws himself upon the mercy of the court as an orphan; but a tax cheat and Dominican Republic condo owner complaining he's too poor to pay lawyers to defend him on ethics charges is pretty darn close."
This 'Can't Afford a Lawyer' Thing Is Just a Feint, guesses The New York Times. "There is no reason why the New York Democrat should have been unprepared to mount a defense. He said his defense team, from the firm of Zuckerman Spaeder, dropped him a month ago when he warned he might not be able to find enough money in his campaign fund to pay them for the hearing. But as the committee chairwoman, Zoe Lofgren, pointed out, the committee has repeatedly advised Mr. Rangel since 2008 that he could set up a defense fund to raise the money, which he has not done."
He Hasn't Got a Prayer, says Jennifer Fermino at the New York Post. "Forget about a smoking gun -- this was more like a smoldering arsenal."
What Happens Next? "If he is found guilty on any of the charges, the entire ethics committee would deliberate on a suitable punishment, which ethics experts say would most likely be a letter of reprimand or a formal censure," the Times reports. "While the committee has the power to expel, that has happened only rarely and is considered highly unlikely."