WASHINGTON Rep. Charles Rangel will not step down as chairman of a powerful tax-writing committee as he undergoes an ethics investigation by fellow lawmakers, his lawyer said Tuesday.
The New York Democrat has faced increasing questions about his future, as Republicans urge his removal from the House Ways and Means Committee over his personal finances, including unreported income on a vacation home in the Dominican Republic that has led to his owing an estimated $5,000 in back taxes.
After 38 years in Congress, Rangel is something of an institution in Washington and his home district of Harlem. Republicans are seeking to highlight the controversy over his finances in the coming election, after Democrats have pounded them on issues of ethics and corruption.
Rangel plans to hire a "nationally renowned forensic accounting firm," to independently review his finances for the past 20 years, and issue a report on their findings directly to the House ethics committee that is scrutinizing Rangel, his lawyer Lanny Davis said.
"Mr. Rangel has not considered, nor has it ever been on the table, that he would step aside from his current position as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee," said Davis. "He has no intention of leaving that position, even on a temporary basis."
Asked if that meant Rangel would stay on as chairman no matter the outcome of the House ethics committee's probe, Davis said that was too far in the future to discuss.
Davis said that, contrary to demands from some for his ouster, "the chairman believes that facts should prevail, not innuendo or editorial opinion or the partisan actions of the House Republican leadership, and his colleagues agree with that judgment."
The lawyer said he plans to enlist the accounting firm sometime this week. When the review of the congressman's finances is complete, the report will be released publicly, along with 20 years of Rangel's tax returns, Davis said.
Asked how long such a review would take, Davis could not say, but added that Rangel's paperwork, whatever the omissions or errors, isn't particularly complicated.
"Mr. Rangel is a simple man. He has not had complicated partnerships, investments, investment strategies. He has a relatively simple financial life and not a lot of wealth," the lawyer said.
Rangel has come under scrutiny on a number of issues, but the one that has proven most embarrassing to him as chairman with great say over tax matters is the beach house in the Dominican Republic.
The lawmaker concedes he did not report some $75,000 in rental income on the property over the past two decades, did not know he received a no-interest mortgage from the resort's developers for at least a decade, and owes $5,000 in back taxes to the U.S. and somewhat less to state and city tax collectors.
Rangel met privately Tuesday morning with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, his second such meeting in two days. He emerged tightlipped, refusing to discuss the matter.
"People believe that this is so sensitive that the last person in the world that should be discussing it is me. So I love you guys but what can I tell ya?" Rangel said as he walked out of the meeting.
His lawyer said Pelosi told Rangel "she was pleased at the initiative he's taken to, in effect, authorize an investigation of himself with full transparency and direct reporting to the ethics committee and she also expressed her appreciation that he is allowing the House ethics committee to complete its process."
In addition to the vacation home, the ethics committee is examining Rangel's use of congressional stationery to try to drum up financial support for an education center named after the lawmaker, as well as his use of three rent-stabilized apartments in his home district of Harlem.