Ethics trial over politician's tax bill

A rare ethics trial began yesterday for the Democratic congressman, Charles Rangel, who headed the House of Representatives tax-writing committee, but has acknowledged shortchanging the government on his own tax bill.

A House ethics panel will judge whether filing an amended tax return, belatedly paying his taxes, and other financial and fundraising practices, violated the congressional rule book.

The trial of the Representative is an embarrassment for Democrats, who are still reeling from losing their majority in the House to Republicans in the 2 November election. Mr Rangel has represented New York's Harlem district for 40 years.

Mr Rangel walked out of his trial, after being denied his plea for a delay until he could obtain a new lawyer. The panel's top lawyer then quoted Mr Rangel's own words from previous proceedings to argue that the lawmaker violated House rules.

Chief House ethics counsel Blake Chisam, assuming the role of prosecutor, played a video of a Rangel speech on the House floor in August. Mr Rangel, former chairman of the tax-writing committee, acknowledged in that presentation that he had used House stationery to raise money for a college centre named after him. He also said that he had been tardy in filing taxes and financial disclosure statements, but that he had no intention of breaking any rules.