Like any good ring leader, Congressman Charles Rangel knows how to dress for a show.
The 40-year congressional veteran sauntered into his ethics hearing in full sartorial splendor: dark suit, primary striped tie and a triple-folded pocket square of the brightest red silk.
He smiled and waved at the press. He shook hands with attorneys presenting the case against him. He even winked at someone seated in the third row.
The 80-year-old New York Democrat then walked over to the respondent's table and sat down all alone.
"I am without counsel," he said after members gave a few brief opening statements. After two years of investigation and two million dollars in legal fees, Rangel said he could no longer afford to pay his attorneys and they had dropped him as a client.
The House Ethics Committee convened Monday to present evidence that Rangel committed- ranging from improper solicitation of donations to a university, to unlawful use of a Harlem apartment, to omitting rental property income on his tax reports.
But Rangel did not seem any more intimated by the eight -member panel than he did 13 counts brought against him.
At his first possible opportunity, Rangel passionately decried the committee's decision to continue the proceedings with him unrepresented.
Rangel Walks Out of House Ethics Hearing
"My reputation, 50 years of public service, has to suffer because this committee has concluded you must conclude this matter before this Congress ends," he said.
Every dramatic phrase Rangel accompanied with an even more theatrical gesture.
He waved wildly. He slapped the side of his leg. He stretched both arms out wide and splayed his fingers apart, displaying "Jazz Hands" more typical of a Bob Fosse musical than congressional testimony.
The camera shutters clicked wildly, crescendoing to such a point that reporters crammed against the back wall became unable to hear him.
"I truly believe that I am not being treated fairly," he said.
The panel chair disagreed. More than 500 exhibits had been compiled, witnesses has been interview and the committee, she said, was ready to proceed.
Charlie, however, was not.
He uttered a few more words then, saying he would not return to the hearing.
In a most Kafkaesque fashion, the trial went on without him. Rangel's violations were addressed in absentia, a right afforded him under the rules.
Despite all his procedural protestations, Rangel has yet to directly contest the battery of charges against him. The congressmen at times appeared tired and exasperated. The inquiry, it seems, is starting to take its toll.
But Monday once again proved that Razzle Dazzle Rangle hasn't lost all of his shine.
Whether his was a flight of desperation or a calculated ploy, Charlie showed his audience that he is in command of the center ring. He is a veteran of the Capitol big top, and the man knows how to take a bow.
As the parade of cameras and notepads followed in a colorful procession down the buildings' endless marble hall, the committee was left to ponder the fate of a circus that had already left town.