Today's imminent censure of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) is the result of Ethics Committee investigations that went much further than we expected, even after we exposed Rangel's failure to pay taxes on income from his Dominican Republic beach house and his acceptance of corporate-funded Caribbean junkets.
Rangel filed the ethics complaint against himself in late 2008. He no doubt expected the Committee to cover up for him, fulfilling the same role it has played during Rangel's 40 years in Congress. Rangel seems amazed that the accusations against him could result in his censure. Perhaps he feels betrayed by the Democratic leadership and the institution of Congress that traditionally has taken care of its own.
Still, it would be wrong to suggest that Congress is cleaning up its act. The ethics trials of Rangel and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) were delayed until after the election by Ethics Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) so that they would not coincide with the campaign's final stretch. Lofgren claimed there wasn't enough time. Yet she found time to stage a hearing for comedian Steven Colbert to make jokes about migrant farm labor. Even more egregious was the bipartisan cover-up of the PMA scandal, which is far more serious than anything Rangel is accused of. The "pay to play " network of the late Rep. John Murtha involved a score of members in both parties, dozens of staffers, and billions in taxpayer money.
Of course, failing to pay taxes is not only a violation of House rules, but also a crime. That is why in September 2008 we filed Complaints with the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Attorney in the wake of our exposé of Rangel's failure to pay his taxes. We have heard nothing and there is no evidence that investigations are underway.
Under Eric Holder, the Justice Department has shut down important criminal investigations involving members of Congress. Shortly after he took office, Holder announced that the Justice Department would not seek to retry Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) even though his conviction was thrown out for reasons having to do with the charges against him. In January, Holder announced in a two-sentence press release that the four-year probe of Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), triggered by NLPC, had ended. The FBI and prosecutors had poured enormous resources into it. (Mollohan this year was defeated in the Democratic primary.) Likewise in August, Holder told Rep. Don Young (D-AK) that he would not face prosecution either. Yesterday, Senator John Ensign (R-NV) got the same good news.
The reason the Ethics Committee did anything against Rangel is because of the constant stream of news coverage, much of it generated by NLPC's repeated discovery of wrongdoing. Against the backdrop of Pelosi's promises to "drain the swamp," the Ethics Committee could not simply punt. Our key ally was Rangel whose often buffoonish defense of his actions, and his refusal to go quietly, gave the Committee no choice but to put Rangel on trial and seek his censure.
If any other citizen were the subject of newspaper articles about a 17-year failure to pay taxes on income in a foreign country, they most certainly would be the subject of a criminal investigation and prosecution. Authorities would also seek to establish whether that citizen maintained offshore bank accounts or other assets. Attorney General Eric Holder must drop his apparent policy of preferential treatment for members of Congress and prosecute tax-cheat Rangel.