Charlie Rangel: Let’s stick to the facts

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Lanny Davis
Former Special Counsel to President Clinton
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      Lanny Davis

      Lanny J. Davis counsels individuals, corporations and government contractors, and those under congressional scrutiny, on crisis management and legal issues by developing legal, media and legislative strategies that are designed to best produce a successful result for the client. He has experience in securities fraud and SEC investigations as well, and has found that utilizing such an integrated legal/media/lobbying approach can lead to quicker and less expensive settlements or even successfully litigated outcomes. Senior officials of public companies have also hired Lanny and his crisis group to defend themselves successfully against "short and distort" attacks and other market manipulations. For 25 years prior to 1996, before his tenure as special counsel to President Clinton, Lanny was a commercial, antitrust, government contracts and False Claims Act litigator (both in defense as well as plaintiff). He has argued numerous appellate cases in the U.S. courts of appeals.

      In June 2005, President Bush appointed Lanny to serve on the five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by the U.S. Congress as part of the 2005 Intelligence Reform Act. In that capacity, he received the highest level security clearances so that he could be fully briefed and "read in" to the various anti-terrorist surveillance and financial tracking programs at the highest classified level. From 1996 to 1998, Lanny served as special counsel to the president in the White House and was a spokesperson for the president and the White House on matters concerning campaign finance investigations and other legal issues. Lanny has participated in national, state and local politics for almost 30 years. He has served three terms (1980 to 1992) on the Democratic National Committee representing the state of Maryland, and during that period he served on the DNC Executive Committee and as chairman of the Eastern Region Caucus. In Montgomery County, Maryland, he served as chairman of the Washington Suburban Transit Commission.

      Lanny has authored several books and lectured throughout the United States and Europe on various political issues. Between 1990 and 1996, Lanny was a bimonthly commentator on Maryland politics for WAMU-88.5/FM, a Washington, D.C. local affiliate of National Public Radio. He has been a regular television commentator and has been a political and legal analyst for MSNBC, CNN, Fox Cable, CNBC and network TV news programs. He has published numerous op-ed/analysis pieces in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, he Washington Post and other national publications.

      Lanny graduated from Yale Law School, where he won the prestigious Thurman Arnold Moot Court prize and served on the Yale Law Journal. A graduate of Yale University, Lanny served as chairman of the Yale Daily News.

      Lanny is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and Connecticut and before the Supreme Court of the United States and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

At one point I served as an attorney for Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.). So I am only going to stick to published facts in this column.

Recently, a very good friend of mine who is the host of a cable TV show expressed no interest in my reviewing these undisputed, published facts because, he said, Rangel is a “tax cheat,” and what more is there to say?

So let’s start with that as an example of someone — a good person who believes in due process — who has been misinformed and is not aware of the facts, and thus reached an erroneous conclusion about Rangel.

Fact: Involving the matter before the House ethics committee, there is no evidence whatsoever that Rangel intentionally did not pay his income taxes. As we know from the initial reports in The New York Times, Rangel was unaware, for a period of over 20 years, that he owed any income taxes regarding a condominium in the Dominican Republic. He first learned that was the case in the summer of 2008. The tax liability arose from a distribution of proceeds to all the condo owners after expenses were paid — but the distributions were “non-cash,” applied to reduce each owner’s mortgage.

Since Rangel did not recall receiving regular reports of those distributions over the 20 years (reducing a mortgage in the neighborhood, I believe, of $75,000 down to zero), he first did not realize he owed taxes on the imputed income leading to the reduction of the mortgage principal. He made — to use two words that are less believed in Washington, perhaps, than any other two words — an honest mistake.

The amount of actual tax liability over this 20-year period turned out to be less than $10,000. (Indeed, after taking into account tax credits and depreciation, etc., it is possible that Rangel owed much less, or even nothing at all.)

Since it was an honest mistake and Rangel did not know he owed these taxes, my friend’s use of the expression “tax cheat” is simply wrong. In order to be a cheat, the act must be intentional. And if it were intentional, that would be a crime. The ethics committee made no such finding because — to repeat — the truth is, Rangel made an honest mistake.

Second is the frequent false use — mostly by partisan Republicans — of the word “corruption” when applied to Rangel. But the staff director of the House ethics committee, Blake Chisam, stated that not one of the counts of the committee’s findings of ethics rules violations — not one — was based on any evidence of personal corruption. Corruption is defined, in this context, as violations that were motivated by or resulted in personal enrichment, as in former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham’s (R-Calif.) acceptance of bribes in return for votes and congressional support for particular earmarks.

No one — not anywhere — suggests that Rangel was personally enriched, or motivated by such, for any of the rules violations that he has been found to have committed. Indeed, after 40 years of public service, the fact that Rangel is so indigent that he cannot afford to pay for a lawyer to defend him before the ethics committee says it all.

So please, everyone, whatever sanctions the ethics committee decides are appropriate — and I won’t comment on that subject — let’s stick to the facts about Rangel. He made honest mistakes. Yes, he was careless. No, he shouldn’t have been if he were perfect. But: He did not personally enrich himself. Those are the facts.

  • rowdygirl

    If he did this for 20 years, isn’t that 20 “honest mistakes”? If this was a regular person, there would be no leniency, no waiver, and no forgiveness.
    The “fact” that he will by all accounts get out of this just shows where the real corruption is located.

  • ThereButForFortune

    House Ways and Means Chairman failes to pay taxes on mortgage reductions. Sorry, can’t give him a pass on ‘I forgot’ or ‘I’m too stupid’.

    “the fact that Rangel is so indigent that he cannot afford to pay for a lawyer to defend him before the ethics committee says it all.”

    Please. Rangel spent >$2,000,000 defending himself before the ethics committee.

  • finalprotfire

    It isn’t like having a hack like Lanny Davis defend you actually improves anyone’s reputation …

  • Liberty for All

    Now we know where the famous “Depends on what is, is,” came from. When Lanny rides to the rescue, is there any room for doubt. I hated listening to this guy during the Clinton years. Does he really believe his own crap. He’s innocent because we can’t prove he meant to cheat? Wow. Shoplifters of the world unite.

    • jonavark


      PLEASE DC.. DUMP THIS CROOK. He belongs at Huffer’s. We’re not buying his insane BS here.

      DUMP HIM.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Deron-Reid/1029130975 Deron Reid

    Mr. Davis,

    I’m sure you have had lots of opportunity for spin during your tenure at the Clinton White House.

    I am equally sure that Mrs. Clinton’s purloining of White House goods was a simple misunderstanding. (after all, she did return them after getting caught)

    I am equally sure that a large donation to the DNC had nothing to do with a pardon for Marc Rich. which in turn helped finance candidates campaigns from the well of a known and sought after felon.

    I am equally sure the Mr. Rangel did nothing wrong. it is a simple misunderstanding.

    Mr. Davis,

    Just because an elected official has similar view points as you does not qualify that person as a good one.

    You of all people should know that.

  • junkmaninohio

    Comon Lanny you mouth breathing brain dead left wing Marxist loon! Don’t insult my intelligence. Charlie was, and still is, a damn crook. A cheap Harlem back slapping good ol’ boy who has been sucking at the taxpayer’s teet for 40 years. He’s been exposed and he crys on camera. Not because he’s sorry….because he got caught, you flaming bleeding heart sorry excuse for a human being. Gimme a break.

  • jonavark

    What a slut you are Lanny.. A cheap suit. PLEASE DC.. kick this twit outa here. He’s slime.

  • bigsigh

    Sorry Mr. Davis, you are out of line this time. The rest of us “regular” people would be relentlessly pursued by the IRS for this type of “honest mistake”. We all have friends that have made mistakes and choose to forgive them and continue to care about them, I understand that you have taken that position. To suggest this should be “forgiven” by the public is wrong. People in his position should be held to a higher standard, not be exempted because of his position. I’m sure he would have been allowed a public defender. Time for the double standards to end.

  • Sidez

    You state from the outset that you’re going to stick to published facts, and then go on to base your entire article on your opinion that Rangel made an honest mistake. Clearly, you need a dictionary, and perhaps a refresher course in basic journalism to learn the difference between the two.

    Here is a fact for you. If any of the rest of us had made such an “honest mistake”, the IRS would be after our blood, and we would likely end up in prison. Here is an opinion for you. You seem to have an awfully high bar set for what it takes to enrich one’s self.

    But I am not heartless. I am one conservative that believes Rangel’s tearful breakdown to have been genuine, and I truly feel compassion for him. Despite being opposed to Rangel’s politics nearly across the board, I really do feel bad for him.

    It isn’t an easy thing to deal with when one’s sins come home to roost.