After accusing the House ethics committee of denying his right to a lawyer, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) threatened to leave the hearing.
Rangel parted ways from his lawyers last month. He told the committee today that they quit, not sure he could pay the already $2 million legal bills he had racked up over the committee’s two-year investigation. He also claimed the committee told him only two weeks ago that he could set up a legal defense fund to pay his lawyers, and that he didn’t have enough time to create such a fund and hire counsel.
“I’ve been a lawyer long enough to know it’s very, very unwise to represent yourself,” he told the committee. Rangel also claimed that lawyers in New York had offered to represent him for free — but the ethics committee told him that would constitute an illegal gift.
He then announced that he would leave the hearing. Without counsel, that would mean he would put up no defense.
In response, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), saying “it troubles me” that Rangel was there without counsel, moved to discuss whether to postpone the hearing in executive session.
The committee is now meeting privately.
Asking for a delay is a big turnaround for Rangel, who has repeatedly demanded a public hearing over the past two years.
Rangel also claimed that he didn’t see the evidence — almost 600 exhibits — that the committee’s lawyers will use until last week.
The 20-term congressman is facing charges of 13 ethics violations. He’s accused of improperly fundraising for an educational center in his name, of filing inaccurate financial disclosure statements and tax returns, and illegally using a rent-controlled apartment as a campaign office.
The allegations have come out over the past two years. Rangel has submitted revised disclosures and tax returns, paid back taxes and no longer has the apartment.
He has maintained his innocence, claiming that his actions were honest mistakes and not corruption.
He was re-elected earlier this month with 80% of the vote.
Late update: The committee has decided to move forward with the hearing today.