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Charles Rangel makes dramatic exit from ethics hearing, which goes on without him

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With characteristic dramatic flourish, Congressman Charlie Rangel on Monday stalked out of his high-stakes ethics trial in Washington — a move that legal experts called “craziness.”

The Harlem political lion claimed he was too broke to retain a lawyer and asked for a delay in the proceedings, but the House ethics panel carried on without him.

The subcommittee agreed there was no disputing the facts in the case — which centers around 13 counts of alleged misconduct — and did not call witnesses. The panel’s chief counsel, Blake Chisam, said he saw “no evidence of corruption,” but accused Rangel of being “sloppy in his personal finances.”

Deliberations continue Tuesday on whether Rangel, 80, is guilty of such charges as failing to declare income taxes on his Dominican Republican villa.

Rangel, who’s been in office for four decades and earlier this month easily won re-election, slammed the two-year probe he himself had requested in July 2008. “My reputation of 50 years of public service has to suffer” and “my family has caught hell,” said the embattled representative.

Rangel had not been denied due process and his theatrical exit is “craziness,” said Washington-based lawyer Cleta Mitchell on Monday.

“He’s had plenty of time and ample opportunity to prepare,” said the political law expert. “He’s just trying to deny the inevitable and postpone a judgment day. … It’s not denial of due process. It’s mockery of due process.”

In a statement later after his walkout, Rangel said that he had no time to set up a legal defense fund and called the subcommittee “unfair.” “They can do what they will with me because they have the power and I have no real chance of fighting back.”

Rangel will likely have another chance to appear before the whole ethics committee and possibly the full House to defend himself, said government ethics lawyer Jan Witold Baran.

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Then and now: A verbal reversal?
1. July 17, 2008 press conference: “The review should be done as soon as possible so as to clear up any misunderstandings,” referring to accusations he used congressional letterhead to solicit funds for an academic center in his name.

Yesterday at the House ethics panel hearing: “All I’m asking for is time to get counsel,” requesting a delay in proceedings.

2. July 23, 2010 press conference: “I’m in the kitchen and I’m not walking out,” on confronting ethics charges against him.

Yesterday at the House ethics panel hearing: “I respectfully withdraw from these proceedings.”

3. July 11, 2008 press conference: “The question of fairness is so subjective,” on whether occupying more than one rent-stabilized apartment was fair.

Yesterday, press statement: “I hope that my colleagues in Congress, friends, constituents and anyone paying attention will consider … how the Committee has been unfair to me.”

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