In a news conference this morning, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., laid down the gauntlet against the Washington Post – and, by proxy, other journalists who have reported on the wisdom of some of the choices he's made while holding a powerful position in Congress. Most recently, the Post printed a story and an editorial involving Rangel's use of his congressional stationery and other congressional perks to allegedly help in fundraising efforts for the "Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service" at New York City College.
In the news conference today, Rangel defended his actions, saying that in the letters he wrote on his congressional stationery, he never asked for money outright. He said repeatedly that he's violated no laws or ethics rules.
Last September, I first reported on $2 million in public money that Rangel earmarked for the "Charles B. Rangel Center." It came to my attention because members of both parties had been tittering (Republicans publicly, but Democrats quietly) over what some of them saw as an unseemly use of tax money. One Republican dubbed the whole project Rangel's "Monument to Me." Rangel did not wish to do an on camera interview for the report.
As I reported, according to a promotional brochure, Rangel's project is to include the new "Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service"... the "Rangel Conference Center"..."a well-furnished office for Charles Rangel"... and the "Charles Rangel Library" for his papers and memorabilia – kind of like a Presidential Library … without a president. In fact, the brochure says, Rangel's Library will be as important as the Clinton and Carter Libraries. That's pretty important.
Rangel has told the public that none of this about ego, and that he can't help it if City College wants to name things after him. However, according to the City College spokeswoman whom I interviewed last fall, the "inspiration" for the Rangel project, the idea to give it federal funding, and the plan to use his name on it … all came from Rangel.
Today, Rangel suggested that, to the extent his name has been unfairly maligned, he believes it can be cleared by the House Ethics Committee investigating the use of his stationery. He feels confident they would confirm he violated no rules. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she supports her colleagues' request to have the air cleared by an Ethics Committee investigation.
Of course some observers, including some members of Congress, who are watching all of this suggest there's more at issue than whether Rangel has technically followed laws and ethics rules. There are those who say members of Congress should behave in a way that doesn't even create the appearance of impropriety. In short, just because there's no formal "rule" against something doesn't necessarily make it right.
Rangel today told his side of the story: He hasn't done anything wrong, he will continue to support the project in question, and he will continue to try to earmark more money toward it.