Rangel, ethics panel lawyers talking deal on charges

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A veteran House lawmaker made a last-minute effort Tuesday to settle his ethics case and prevent a House trial that could embarrass him and damage the Democratic Party in advance of November elections.

The talks between Rep. Charles Rangel’s lawyer and the House ethics committee’s nonpartisan attorneys were confirmed by ethics Chairman Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat. Lofgren said she is not involved in the talks, and added that the committee’s lawmakers have always accepted the professional staff’s recommendations in previous plea bargains.

Rangel, a 40-year House veteran who is 80 years old, would have to admit to multiple, substantial ethics violations for any plea bargain to be accepted. Earlier negotiations broke down when Rangel would only admit to some allegations — not enough to satisfy the committee lawyers, according to people familiar with those talks who were not authorized to be quoted by name.

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He is the former chairman of the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and one of the most influential black members of Congress, representing New York’s Harlem district.

If the talks are not successful, trial proceedings for Rangel would begin Thursday with a reading of alleged ethics violations that are still confidential.

An equally divided Democrat-Republican, eight-member subcommittee led by Lofgren would then conduct the actual trial later and decide whether the charges are proved by clear and convincing evidence.

The members are separate from the four-member investigative panel that charged Rangel with multiple violations connected to his fundraising, financial disclosure and failure to pay taxes on income from a resort unit.

If the case ends with either a plea bargain or a finding of guilt, the ethics committee would make a decision on punishment that could range from a critical report, to a censure by the House or an expulsion vote.

In previous cases, the only matter to go through a trial was the case of former Rep. Jim Traficant, who was expelled by a 420-1 vote in 2002. He went to prison after his conviction for racketeering and bribery.

Some Democrats have called for Rangel to resign. Others have returned money he raised for them. Many Democrats are worried that they wiil be responding to negative election campaign ads about Rangel if a trial gets under way in September.

An ethics case against former Republican Rep. Mark Foley, involving his suggestive e-mails to former male pages, or messangers, coincided with the 2006 campaign and was among the reasons the Republicans lost control of the House.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who was not confirming any negotiations, told reporters Tuesday, “I think everybody would like to have it go away in the sense that this is not a pleasant process.”

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Associated Press Writer Ann Sanner contributed to this story.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.