Embattled Harlem congressman Charlie Rangel walked out of his Ethics committee hearing today, and some of the candidates who ran against him in September say that he is deliberately trying to cast doubt on the validity of the verdict rather than defend himself from the charges.
“I believe he has made a calculation that he is going to be charged with something,” said Jonathan Tasini. “He is trying to preserve his seat and his reputation. He is not speaking to the committee and to the process. He is speaking to his constituents in Harlem and to the American people. He wants to be able to say at the end of the day that I was not treated fairly.”
Tasini, a labor activist, scored 5 percent of the vote in the September primary, and he sounded incredulous that Rangel claimed he was unable to find a lawyer in time.
“It is inconceivable that Charlie Rangel, with his 40 years of service in Congress, could not find a lawyer,” he said. “What in fact required him to spend almost $2 million on lawyers? I know a lot of good public interest lawyers that would charge a lot less.”
Rangel parted ways with his attorney after he spent close to $2 million to cover his legal bills. He said he did not have an attorney present today because he was out of funds.
Vince Morgan, the community banker and former candidate for Charlie Rangel’s congressional seat, said this afternoon that he was stunned to watch his former opponent walk out of the proceedings once the request was denied.
“Part of me thinks it was ballsy for him to walk out,” Morgan said. “That type of grandstanding brings into question the validity of the ethics trial itself. It shows that the Ethics Committee is just ineffective.”
Morgan, a former Rangel aide, ran against the longtime Harlem incumbent for the better part of a year, but finished in last place in the six-person field with just three percent of the vote. Morgan did not make Rangel’s ethics troubles the centerpiece of his campaign, but instead argued that after four terms in Congress it was time for the residents of Harlem to begin casting about for a successor.
He said it seemed shrewd of Rangel to handle the hearing the way he did, which casts even more doubt on the validity of process that has only been used once in the past decade.
“He has put a wedge into it,” Morgan said. “He is a master of the game. He has dug his heels in and he figures he will just let the chips fall where they may. He is a tough old dude.”
Morgan added however that it is possible the spectacle of Rangel walking out could mean that his game could finally be up.
“People gave him a pass before with the understanding that he was approaching the end of his career. Now people’s eyes and ears are opened,” he said.
Morgan also said that he was not sure if the events of today meant it was less likely that Rangel would finish the end of his term.
“That’s the million-dollar question. We’ll see how this week goes.”