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House Democrats uneasy about upcoming Rangel allegations

From Deirdre Walsh, CNN Congressional Producer
  • House Democrats are uneasy about ethics allegations against a veteran member
  • Rep. Rangel of New York faces an ethics committee report on Thursday
  • One Democratic colleague of Rangel has called for him to step down
  • Rangel is running this year for his 21st House term

Washington (CNN) -- House Democratic leaders preached patience Monday in awaiting an ethics committee report on veteran Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, but rumblings emerged from House members for Rangel to somehow deal with the issue before a public hearing later this week.

Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, told reporters Monday that they have not spoken to Rangel about the ethics issues.

"The fact is the [ethics] committee has made its announcement and its timetable and we will just have to wait to see how that plays out," Pelosi said of the panel's meeting Thursday, when it is expected to detail the allegations against Rangel.

However, Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who is heavily involved in House Democratic re-election efforts, said Rangel needs to look at big picture regarding his political legacy.

"I think Mr. Rangel would be wise to evaluate what's best not only for him, but also for the causes he has advanced for as many years as he has in his long career," Wasserman Schultz said.

She had no information about any possible settlement Rangel might try to reach with the ethics committee prior to the upcoming hearing, but said having possible ethics allegations aired in public at the hearing was "certainly not helpful."

Democratic leadership aides, speaking on condition of not being identified by name, denied any direct effort by House leaders to broker a settlement between Rangel and the ethics committee, but they acknowledged the issue was a potential problem in an election year.

One aide said members hoped that Rangel "could come to some sort of agreement with the ethics committee and avoid this."

After a nearly two-year probe, the committee's report coming Thursday could bring a trial by a panel subcommittee in September.

"There's a growing sense of unease about the spectacle that may come from a September hearing," one of the leadership aides told CNN. The aide added such a distraction would be unhelpful in the current political environment less than 100 days before congressional midterm elections in November.

Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California, the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, warned against a "rush to judgment" in the Rangel case.

"Attempts by Republicans and Democrats to presume guilt before the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct completes its review of the facts, which are only known to them and Congressman Rangel, violates the core American principle of the presumption of innocence," Lee said in a statement.

As of Monday, only one House Democrat, Rep. Betty Sutton of Ohio, had called for Rangel to step down. At least two other Democrats -- Rep. Brad Ellsworth, the Senate nominee in Indiana, and Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, a Pennsylvania Democrat -- have pledged to donate to charity any campaign contributions received from Rangel.

On the GOP side, the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, told reporters that "it is important that we tone down the politics and let the ethics committee do its job."

At the same time, the National Republican Campaign Committee continued criticizing House Democrats who have yet to return political contributions from Rangel.

The committee sent a series of e-mails to reporters Monday that linked House Democrats facing tough re-election bids to Rangel. In the e-mails, the committee argued the House Democrats took "dirty campaign contributions" and are aligned with Rangel's "notorious ethics problems."

Utah Democrat Jim Matheson, one of the Democrats targeted by Republicans, told CNN he is not hearing any concerns about Rangel from his constituents. He said he wants to know the specific charges before he makes a judgment.

Matheson acknowledged he received campaign contributions from Rangel for previous elections, saying, "that money has already been spent."

Rangel has admitted a failure to pay taxes on a home in the Dominican Republic and to report several hundred thousand dollars in assets on federal disclosure forms. In addition, questions have been raised about his purported misuse of a rent-controlled apartment for political purposes, and whether he preserved tax benefits for an oil-drilling company in exchange for donations to a project he supported at the City College of New York.