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Rangel, Claiming Lack Of Legal Counsel, Withdraws From Ethics Hearing

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hide captionWell, he didn't have a good day this morning.

You know the story of the person who defended himself against charges that he murdered his parents by claiming he was an orphan?

I was reminded of that watching Rep. Charles Rangel this morning before a special panel of the House ethics committee, which is deciding what, if any, punishment Rangel should receive regarding 13 counts of allegedly violating House rules.  Rangel, who has been under investigation for more than two years, said the proceedings should not continue because he doesn't have a lawyer; he parted ways with his legal team last month.

Charlie Rangel is a canny, smart lawmaker who in his 40 years in Congress rose to head up the House Ways and Means Committee.  A Democrat from New York's Harlem, he was powerful and influential and played a major role in writing tax legislation. Those days, of course, are long gone.

Given his stature, or at least his former stature, there was something a bit sad watching him this morning before the panel.  I must withdraw from this process, he said, because I don't have a lawyer.  He said it wasn't fair to ask him to participate without counsel.

Seemingly running out of patience, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who chairs both the full ethics committee and the special panel, said several times that Rangel, who is 80 and was first elected in 1970, long had the opportunity to hire a lawyer.

NPR's Peter Overby outlines the charges against Rangel here.

The last time the House held an ethics trial was in 2002, when then-Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio) ultimately was ousted from Congress.  No one expects the same fate this time, but lawmakers from both parties said Rangel could have made it easier for himself had he acknowledged some of the charges months ago.

His legal problems, of course, have not been met with electoral problems.  He won re-election earlier this month with 80 percent of the vote.

Right now the committee has gone into closed session to decide how to proceed.

UPDATE:  Lofgren, saying that Rangel has had plenty of time to find counsel, announced that the committee will continue with its deliberations, despite Rangel's decision to withdraw his participation.  She essentially rejects Rangel's request for a delay.

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