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Rangel walks out of ethics trial

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Rep. Rangel walks out on ethics hearing
  • NEW: Subcommittee will return to executive session Tuesday morning
  • Ethics subcommittee reaches agreement on facts of case and starts deliberations
  • The subcommittee rejects Rangel's request for a delay until he can hire a new defense team
  • Rangel walks out of hearing, complaining of lack of time, money to hire new lawyers

Washington (CNN) -- The House panel looking into ethics accusations against a key Democratic representative stopped deliberations for the day late Monday afternoon and will return to its executive session deliberations Tuesday morning.

Embattled Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-New York, walked out of the House ethics subcommittee trial on Monday, complaining he has not had sufficient time to hire a new legal team to respond to corruption allegations.

The subcommittee rejected Rangel's request to delay the hearing until a new defense team is assembled.

Rangel faces 13 allegations, include failing to pay taxes on a home in the Dominican Republic, misuse of a rent-controlled apartment for political purposes and improper use of government mail service and letterhead.

"Fifty years of public service is on the line. And I truly believe that I am not being treated fairly," he declared. "I deserve a lawyer."

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Rangel told the subcommittee members he has already spent $2 million defending himself from the charges, and had been advised the trial could cost him another $1 million.

He complained that he was not being given enough time to raise funds to hire new lawyers because the committee was rushing to complete its work before the conclusion of the current lame-duck Congress.

Rangel's original defense team left him in September.

"What theory of fairness would dictate that I be denied due process ... because it is going to be the end of this session?" he asked.

He later released a statement calling the committee's decision to proceed without delay a violation of "the most basic rights ... guaranteed to every person under the Constitution."

"The [ethics committee] has deprived me of the fundamental right to counsel and has chosen to proceed as if it is fair and impartial and operating according to rules, when in reality they are depriving me of my rights," he said.

Ethics committee chair Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California, replied that it was Rangel's responsibility to assemble his legal team. She also noted that Rangel had received advice numerous times from the committee on how to raise funds for his defense.

"Retention of counsel is up to the respondent," she said.

Several subcommittee members, however, also blasted Zuckerman Spaeder, the law firm originally representing Rangel.

It is "fundamentally unfair" for lawyers to abandon a client on the eve of a trial, said North Carolina Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a former trial judge. "That would not have happened in my courtroom." We need to "make sure that this firm explains its conduct to the committee."

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, expressed his "astonishment at Zuckerman Spaeder for taking the money ... and then kicking their client to the side of the road when it came time for the actual hearing."

In a statement issued in response to the criticism, a spokeswoman for the firm said it "did not seek to terminate the relationship [with Rangel] and explored every alternative to remain as his counsel consistent with House ethics rules prohibiting members from accepting pro bono legal services."

Numerous House Republicans -- as well as some House Democrats -- have called for Rangel to resign because of the alleged ethics violations.

R. Blake Chisam, the committee's chief counsel, told members in the hearing Monday that "there are no genuine issues as to any material facts in this case. As a result, the case is ripe for decision."

Chisam said there is no evidence Rangel was trying "to personally enrich himself." But he said he believes "the congressman quite frankly was overzealous" in many instances and "at least sloppy in his personal finances."

The subcommittee, according to Lofgren, agreed with Chisam that there is no dispute over the basic facts of the case. It then went into closed deliberations over whether the Rangel did in fact violate House rules.

The subcommittee must ultimately vote on each of the 13 charges made against Rangel. It will then forward its conclusions to the full ethics committee -- formally known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct -- which in turn will vote on possible penalties against the congressman and file a report with the full House.

In August, Rangel said nothing "will stop me from clearing my name from these vile and vicious charges."

Rangel also offered explanations for the ethics charges against him, characterizing them as mistakes and acknowledging violations of House rules but denying they amounted to corruption.

"It's not corrupt," he said when responding to assertions that he used House letterhead to approach possible contributors to a university policy center in his name. "It may be stupid. It may be negligent, but it's not corrupt."

Regarding an accusation that he used a rent-controlled apartment as a campaign office, Rangel has said he did nothing wrong, but was "insensitive to the appearance of being treated differently."

Rangel, who was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1970, was forced to step down as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee because of the allegations against him.

Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California is also scheduled to have an adjudication hearing with the House ethics committee this month, on November 29. Waters has denied the allegations against her, which include steering federal bailout money to Massachusetts-based OneUnited Bank -- in which her husband had a financial stake.

CNN's Alan Silverleib, Rachel Streitfeld, and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.