This post was updated late in the day.
Today's predominant Washington acronym is WWCD. As in, "What Will Charlie Do?"
When we last checked in with Charlie Rangel, the poster child for congressional sleaze, the long-serving House Democrat was insisting that he had done nothing wrong, no matter what the bipartisan House ethics committee had concluded after a two-year probe of his peekaboo game with the tax man. But now he has literally arrived at the day of reckoning.
He has to make a choice; none of the options are appetizing. He can theoretically reach a settlement with the ethics panel and cop to some serious wrongdoing - thereby permanently soiling his reputation and legacy. Or he can maintain his pose of defiance and vow to fight the 13 charges that were spelled out by the ethics panel in a scathing report released this afternoon. Barring a settlement - indeed, Rngel said today, "I'm not involved in a deal - the ethics panel will essentially put Rangel on trial in public proceedings this autumn...the same autumn in which House Democrats will be campaigning to hang onto their imperiled majority.
So there it is. Rangel can either find a way to confess to some of his sins, and take a big personal hit - or he can confess to nothing, and risk bringing down his fellow Democrats along with him in a protacted public circus that would make a mockery of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's '06 vow to run the "most honest, most open, and most ethical Congress in history."
After a 39-year ascent to the top of the heap, Rangel now seems poised to lose it all in a New York minute. Democrats are hinting to reporters - anonymously, for the most part - that they want their weightiest ball and chain to quit his seat, pronto, for the good of the party. We shouldn't be surprised if a number of his House colleagues say this publicly by week's end, joining the quartet (including Philly suburb congressman Patrick Murphy) that has already demanded his exit. And it's easy to see why.
The ethics report says that Rangel brough "discredit to the House." He failed to report, on required congressional disclosure forms, that he owned income-generating properties in New York, New Jersey, Florida, and the Dominican Republic. He also failed to report, on those forms, that he had two bank accounts with a combined value as high as a million bucks. He failed to report his dividend income from other investments, and he failed to report what he pocketed from the sale of a Harlem townhouse, not to mention the rental income he had made off that townhouse prior to sale. He failed to pay taxes on rental income from that villa in the Dominican Republic. He also worked a suspicious deal with an oil corporationn, whereby the firm reportedly agreed to donate a million bucks for an institute called The Charles Rangel Public Policy Center - and, in return, he reportedly pulled strings to protect a tax loophole beneficial to the firm.
The ethics panel's "Statement of Alleged Violation" details all of this, and more. And the Republicans, in their bid to capture the House this autumn by capitalizing on voter disenchantment with Washington, could not have scripted anything better in their dreams. As Pelosi acknowledged this morning, with a touch of fatalism, "The chips will have to fall where they may, politically."
So, WWCD? All we know at the moment is that he feels a "sense of relief."
That's what the man claims. Queried by reporters yesterday, he insisted that he feels "some sense of relief that at long last we can talk about the allegation."
Yeah, right. Allow me to translate that politicode:
"I am truly up the creek without a paddle, but I will smile for the cameras as I sink. Would any of my Democratic colleagues care to join me in the water?"