For the first time in years, a Member of the House faces formal ethics charges. While the charges against Rep. Charles Rangel have caught some by surprise, perhaps the strongest signal that they were a real possibility was the growth in Rangel’s legal fees over the last two years. Last summer, Rangel topped the million dollar mark in legal fees relating to the investigations to which he has been responding. That total is now in the neighborhood of $2 million.
What’s next for Rangel is anyone’s guess. According to the ethics committee’s July 22 statement (pdf), it has formed an adjudicatory committee to make findings of fact and to determine whether there is “clear and convincing evidence” of the violations for which Rangel is charged. Committee rules provide that, at such a hearing, the subcommittee may take evidence and testimony as it deems necessary. Rules also provide that these hearings are usually public.
If Rangel wants to avoid the public spectacle of a hearing before the subcommittee, there are now really only two ways that he could do so. First, he could reach a settlement with the committee. Eric Lipton and David Kocieniewski have reported that last week’s charges were actually a result of settlement talks breaking down. Those talks could resume, and settlement remains a possibility.
Second, Rangel could leave the House. The jurisdiction of the House Ethics committee generally does not extend to former Members. This is why, for example, the committee could not sanction former Rep. Mark Foley after its investigation regarding his alleged improprieties with House pages. Foley left the House before the committee concluded its investigation, and the committee acknowledged in its report that this meant it had no “disciplinary authority” over him.