Charlie Rangel in the Crosshairs

This afternoon, in the first step toward a trial that's been years in the making, four Democratic and four Republican members of the House announced 13 charges against Rep. Charlie Rangel. The Harlem Democrat, who has served in the House for 39 years, is a legendary and well-liked member of Congress. He is known for earning a Purple Heart in the Korean War and mentoring new arrivals to Capitol Hill.

He has also been under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for two years. Though members of the committee tried to strike a deal with Rangel to avoid a public trial during such a high-stakes election season, he apparently was not willing to admit to as many of the charges as they wanted. Rangel did not attend today's announcement.

Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican, and Rep. Gene Green, a Democrat, presented the charges. McCaul worried about how the accusations would affect Congress's reputation, citing a poll that found that only 11 percent of Americans have a positive view of the institution. "In the mind of the American people, Congress has become self-serving and so tone-deaf that somehow the rules don't apply to them," McCaul said.

This characterization will only be furthered by the fact that, as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee (he stepped down in March), Rangel was in charge of writing tax laws that he is now accused of breaking.

The three biggest charges against Rangel are that 1) he solicited donations on Congressional letterhead for an educational center in his name (the Charles B. Rangel Center at the City College of New York), then earmarked funds for the center in House legislation; 2) he filed faulty financial disclosures that left out rental income from a Harlem brownstone and a villa in the Dominican Republic as well as unearned income from various stock holdings; and 3) he illicitly ran campaign operations out of a rent-stabilized Harlem apartment intended for residential purposes.

The meeting ended with nostalgic remarks from Rep. Jo Bonner, a Republican who reflected on Rangel's personal history and how difficult it was for his peers to bring charges against him. "This is truly a sad day," Bonner said, "where no one, regardless of their partisan stripes, should rejoice."

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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