House Committee: Rangel Broke Travel Rules

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Congressman Charles Rangel of New York says the House Ethics Committee is admonishing him for circumstances surrounding trips he took to the Caribbean. Rangel says the committee found the trips, paid for by corporations, violated ethics rules. Rangel, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, says he did not know about any violations, and will pay the corporations back.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The Ethics Committee in the House of Representatives has decided to admonish long-time Congressman Charles Rangel. He's being criticized for violating rules concerning gifts. The New York Democrat is still facing a number of other allegations, as NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: Rangel chairs the Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax legislation. He spent all day yesterday at the White House health care summit, but last night his priority was beating the Ethics Committee to the punch, giving his side of the case before the committee puts out its version today.

And here is the case: in 2007 and 2008, Rangel and five other Democratic lawmakers attended an annual Caribbean business conference. A foundation paid their way and told them no corporate money was involved. That meant the trips were okay under House gift rules, but it turned out there was corporate money. The five other lawmakers didn't know that, and the committee exonerated them. Rangel didn't know it, either, the committee said, but two of his staffers did. And that's the violation, that Rangel, quote, "was responsible for the knowledge and actions of his staff," unquote.

Rangel quickly called a press conference.

Representative CHARLES RANGEL (Democrat, New York): I don't want to be critical of the committee, but common sense dictates that members of Congress should not be held responsible for what could be the wrongdoing or mistakes or errors of staff, unless there's reason to believe that the member knew or should have known. And there's nothing in the record to indicate the latter. So I have to now deal with my lawyer as to what the hell do they mean.

OVERBY: The Ethics Committee said it was admonishing Rangel. That's about the lightest criticism it can give. And it said he should repay for the corporate spending. Later last night, Rangel's office said he'll do that.

The Ethics Committee is also investigating him on three other issues: his fundraising for a college program named after him, his four rent-controlled apartments in New York City, and his failure to report rental income from his villa in the Dominican Republic.

While the Ethics document on Rangel was leaking out, so was another one concerning five other House members. The Associated Press said the Ethics panel was closing its probe of four Democrats and one Republican on the Appropriations Committee. The lawmakers all had gotten campaign contributions from businesspeople, as the lawmakers wrote spending provisions targeted to their firms.

The lawmakers who are reportedly off the hook with House Ethics are Democrat Norm Dicks of Washington State, Democrat Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, Florida Republican C.W. Bill Young, also Democrat John Murtha of Pennsylvania - who died earlier this month - and Democrat Pete Visclosky of Indiana, who, despite the reported decision by House Ethics, is still under scrutiny by the Justice Department.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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