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updated 7/27/2010 5:03:27 PM ET 2010-07-27T21:03:27

Former committee chairman Rep. Charles Rangel attempted a last-minute plea deal Tuesday to head off a House ethics trial that could embarrass him and damage Democrats facing potentially severe election losses.

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The talks between Rangel's lawyer and the House ethics committee's nonpartisan attorneys were confirmed by ethics Chairman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. She said she is not involved in the talks, adding that the committee's lawmakers have always accepted the professional staff's recommendations in previous plea bargains.

Rangel, D-N.Y., the former Ways and Means Committee chairman, would have to admit to multiple, substantial ethics violations unless ethics lawyers dramatically changed their negotiating stance.

Earlier negotiations broke down when Rangel would only admit to some allegations — not enough to satisfy the ethics committee lawyers, according to people familiar with those talks who were not authorized to be quoted by name.

Rangel, a 40-year House veteran who is 80 years old, stepped down from his chairmanship in March when the ethics committee found he should have known that corporations financed two trips to Caribbean conferences. While chairman, Rangel was a major force in stimulus bills, health care reform, trade and tax legislation. He is tied for fourth in seniority in the 435-member House.

If the negotiations are not successful, trial proceedings for the Harlem congressman would begin Thursday with a public reading of alleged ethics violations that are still confidential.

A subcommittee of four Democrats and four Republicans, led by Lofgren, would then conduct the actual trial later and decide whether the charges are proved by clear and convincing evidence.

The trial committee would be made up of lawmakers who were not part of the 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. The trial committee can decide whether to conduct some of its proceedings in public.

If there is a plea bargain or a finding that the evidence supports the charges, 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.

The only previous case to go to an ethics committee trial was the investigation of former Rep. Jim Traficant of Ohio, who was expelled by a 420-1 vote in 2002. He went to prison after his conviction in federal court 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'll be targets of negative campaign ads about Rangel if a trial gets under way in September.

An ethics case against former Republican Rep. Mark Foley of Florida, involving his suggestive e-mails to former male pages, coincided with the 2006 campaign and was among the reasons the GOP 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."

The Maryland Democrat said he didn't know what Rangel's decision would be.

"Mr. Rangel has to do what Mr. Rangel believes is appropriate and proper," said Hoyer.

Lofgren said lawmakers have peppered her with questions about the negotiations.

"People want to know, am I doing a deal? The answer is no," Lofgren said. "I don't know whether it's possible or not. The professional staff can arrange a settlement."

A House investigative committee last week cited Rangel for multiple alleged violations. People familiar with the charges, who were not authorized to be quoted, said they related in part, to:

  • Rangel's use of official stationery to raise money for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York.
  • A possible role in preserving a tax shelter for an oil drilling company, Nabors Industries, whose chief executive donated money to the Rangel Center while Ways and Means considered the loophole legislation.
  • Rangel's use of four rent-subsidized apartment units in New York City.
  • Rangel's failure to report income as required on his annual financial disclosure forms. The committee had investigated his failure to report income from the lawmaker's rental unit at the Punta Cana Yacht Club in the Dominican Republic. Rangel also belatedly disclosed between $239,000 and $831,000 in investment assets.
  • His failure to pay taxes on all his income from the resort unit.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: How Rangel's ethics impact Democrats

  1. Closed captioning of: How Rangel's ethics impact Democrats

    >> democratic representatives from maryland, and chairman of the democratic congressional campaign committee , congressman chris van hollin. good to have you back on the show.

    >> mika, good to be with you again.

    >> we haven't touched on the charlie wrangle issue. where does that stand? is there a quiet movement to sort of get him to willingly step down or get out of the way? of course there's apparently more allegations, according to "the new york post" against him. just more to come, more to come on rangel.

    >> as you know, charlie rangel stepped assize as the chairman much the weighs and means committee some time ago.

    >> is that enough?

    >> now the charges will be made formal as i understand it on thursday and charlie rangel will have to decide how to proceed. he'll have to decide whether he settles the case or whether he continues to take this to the equivalent of a jury, and a courtroom type proceeding within the ethics committee . and that will be his decision going forward.

    >> mike barnicle ?

    >> congressman, that would seem scenari o for the democratic party . at the same time a bill perhaps arises or a suggestion from the president of the united states arises on the floor to take a look at the tax structure. to whether to let the bush tax cuts elapse at the end of the year. you have a terrific guy, everybody says he is a terrific guy, and he is, who used to be in charge of the ways and means committee , writing tax codes for the american public, on trial in full public view, that has got to be your worst nightmare.

    >> we're going to keep focusing on issues that are important to the american people . obvio obviously we're going to focus on the issue of jobs. we're going to continue to focus on closing down some of the tax loopholes that actually encourage american corporations to shift jobs overseas. so we're going to keep focused on that business. how the ethics committee proceeding unfolds will depend on how charlie rangel proceeds to deal with them. and that will have to be something he and his lawyers decide. but it is not going to distract those of us in the house from dealing with these other issues. you're right. there's going to be media attention to this and obviously it's taking place in a political environment. but, at the end of the day , charlie rangel and his lawyers have to decide the best way for him to proceed.

    >> governor rendell?

    >> well, chris , you know, i just as he just said, charlie rangel has done a lot of good things for this country. again it's that sense of entitlement, it trips up so many of us in public life . i feel for charlie but i do think he has to reach an agreement. i think it's very harmful for us to have this play out right before the election. and i hope leaders like you can talk to charlie , and i know it's a decision for his lawyers, but it's also a decision you make about what's best for the causes you believe in.

    >> i mean, what are you advising him to do, chris ?

    >> well, mika, look, i have had the discussion with charlie wrangle. i've provided my confidential advice. he understands that he's operating in a political environment. and that that's a major factor. he's very cognizant of the fact that what's happening to him has an impact on others. and so, again, we're going to see what happens on thursday, whether he decides to reach a settlement or whether he decides to proceed. i think others have also weighed in confidentially at the end of the day . the decision will be his. but, we all understand exactly what ed and others have said. look, this is taking place in a political environment. that being said, we are going to continue to focus on the big issues. we were passing legislation again this week out of the house to close down some of these loopholes that encourage u.s. corporations to shift jobs overseas.

    >> but chris , they're focused on what's going to happen here. i've got two -- well one so-called republican, and a republican. just a conservative, then the republican.

    >> okay. let me ask you, chris , "the washington post " says today that you made these blue dogs walk the plank on cap and trade, they went up and voted for it, basically a tax, they're getting hammered in their home districts, and the senate walked away from it and left these guys hanging. how big a problem is that in your house in terms of demoralization?

    >> pat, i do not think it's a problem at all. look, we had some members who voted for it. we had a lot of members who voted against it, as well. based on their decisions, their conversations, with people in their districts. i can tell you that a lot of the folks who voted for it are going to go on offense on this issue. as you know, it's a national security issue. "the washington post " article featured john bocheri, a member of congress from ohio. he's an iraq war veteran . he feels very strongly that reducing our reliance on foreign oil is in our national security interests. as do all of us. and he has taken that issue to his constituents. we export 700 billion dollars a year that could be invested here in clean, renewable energy . if that's the case he has made. that's the case that other members will be making.

    >> congressman you talked about the major issues that you've got left to tackle. are you going to be able to get them all done prior to the november election? and will you rule out taking up any major substantive legislation in a lame duck session after the voters have spoken?

    >> yeah, i don't expect to see a lot of major legislation after the lame duck session . as you well know we have passed an awful lot of legislation in the house and the senate, and much of it has reached the president's desk. he just signed last week the wall street reform bill . a bill that john boehner and the republican leadership have announced they're going to try and repeal and go back to business as usual . we're going to focus on getting things done that we have to get done before november, but to answer your question, nobody should think that there's some secret plan for after the election on big issues.

    >> i'm not worried about a secret one, i'm worried about overt one.

    >> i'm worried about charlie rangel .

    >> there's no secret plan to do something like that

    >> congressman where are you personally on letting the bush tax cuts elapse? just let them elapse for the upper 2%, the rich people and letting them stay for the middle class ? where are you?

    >> yeah, i believe that we should allow the upper 2% tax cuts to lapse. to go back to the pre- george bush levels, for a couple of reasons. number one, if we don't, we're going to blow an additional $700 billion hole in the deficit. you know, we hear our republican colleagues say they're deficit hawks but when it comes to this issue they run exactly the other way. the other reason is, that we know from the last eight years of the bush administration that those tax cuts did not lead to some roaring economy. after all, after eight years, you saw a net loss of 630,000 jobs. so the argument that you've got to maintain these tax breaks for those at the top 2% in order to restore the economy has been disproven by the facts. so let's focus on deficit reduction. let's get the middle class tax cuts passed, and i think our republican colleagues are making a big mistake by saying they're going to hold the tax relief for middle class americans, 98% of the american people , they're going to hold that hostage to getting a tax break continuation for those at the very top.

    >> all right, chris , and before we go, ed i want to clarify something you said earlier. we were talking about charlie quite seri ously. do you think he should step down in terms of getting out of the way for the midterms?

    >> i'm sure that stepping down is necessary although --

    >> would it help?

    >> it would help but what he has to avoid is a long, drawn-out procedure in the house itself. if there's agreement reached for sanctions or stepping down, that's between him and his lawyers and everyone else but charlie has to understand the long, drawn-out procedure making a difficult election even more difficult for democrats.

    >> congressman van hollen, thank you.

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