Charlie Rangel, hero of Harlem, brought low by corruption charges

It is, depending on your point of view, the sad downfall of a loveable rogue – or comeuppance for a Congressional baron with an outsized sense of entitlement, who had long lost touch with the voters he was supposed to serve.

Either way, Charles Rangel is set to provide some of Washington's most compelling political theatre in years.

On Thursday, the ethics committee of the House of Representatives charged the 80-year-old Representative for Harlem in Upper Manhattan with no less than 13 violations of House rules, from filing incorrect tax returns to improperly using a rent-controlled apartment as a campaign office.

Barring a compromise between his lawyers and the committee, he is likely to go before his peers for judgment in September – the first such ethics trial of a sitting Congressman since 1992. Mr Rangel himself now faces the prospect of an ignominious end to an illustrious 40-year career in Washington politics. For his incumbent Democratic party, already bracing itself for heavy losses in November's mid-term elections, the affair is a nightmare it didn't need.

By any measure, Mr Rangel is one of the most important Democrats on Capitol Hill. First elected in 1970, he was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and between 2007 and 2010 chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, after a decade's service as senior Democrat on the tax-writing panel, one of Washington's great hidden seats of power.

He is a decorated Korean war veteran, and a long-standing advocate of bringing back the military draft – not least as a means of ensuring full racial equality in the military. Mr Rangel has a distinguished record in the civil rights movement, and successfully pressed for US economic sanctions against South Africa, which helped speed the end of the apartheid regime. And at least until the ethics investigations that started in 2008, his gregarious style made him one of the most popular members of Congress.

But no longer. Jo Bonner, the senior Republican on the Ethics Committee, might well tell colleagues that "no one, regardless of their partisan stripes, should rejoice" at what had happened.

In reality, no one is rejoicing more than Republicans at the political ammunition they have been handed – proof for them that the Democrats who have controlled Congress for the last four years have utterly failed to keep their promise to "drain the swamp" of corruption in Washington.

In a year when anti-incumbent feelings are running higher than ever, the charge could be devastating in November, as Democrats know full well. Many of them are now abandoning Mr Rangel, blaming him for not making a quiet deal with investigators and sparing his party the embarrassment of a public trial.

A deal could yet happen, but it is increasingly unlikely. Any such arrangement would have to be approved by Republicans on the Ethics Committee, whose membership is equally divided between the two parties, and they are in no mood to do so.

Another Republican on the panel said yesterday Mr Rangel had been "given the opportunity to negotiate a settlement during the investigation phase". But that phase is over, and "we are now in the trial phase". If convicted, Mr Rangel could escape with a report criticising his conduct. Alternatively, he could be reprimanded or censured by the full House of Representatives, or in the worst case expelled.

Whatever happens, he is the latest proof of how the job of chairing the Ways and Means committee, long considered one of the most powerful jobs in Washington, is jinxed – for Democrats at least.

Back in 1974 Wilbur Mills was caught drunk in his car in the small hours by DC police, along with an Argentinian-born stripper called Fanne Foxe. He gave up his committee post a few months later, and in 1976 retired from Congress. Two decades later Dan Rostenkowski, a Chicago-bred wheeler-dealer who negotiated tax policy with Presidents Reagan and George H W Bush, came to grief on a host of petty corruption charges, and spent a year in a federal prison.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee