Rep. Charles Rangel filed a federal lawsuit Monday against members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ethics, arguing that they suppressed evidence during the investigation that led to his 2010 censure for financial wrongdoing.
The suit, which aims to overturn the censure, points to a July 2011 memorandum from the ethics committee’s chief counsel. The memo states that two lawyers working for the prosecution in the censure case had “impermissible” communications with Republican members of the committee and made racially charged comments about the 22-term Harlem congressman.
The congressman was censured in December 2010, receiving the most severe punishment short of expulsion in the House of Representatives. The ethics committee found that he failed to report income from a rental unit in the Dominican Republic, filed inaccurate financial disclosure forms, and used his position in Congress to fundraise for the Rangel Center at City College of New York.
Rangel’s lawyer, Jay Goldberg, said in a statement to the court that “at least four members” of the panel in charge of Rangel’s prosecution should have been dismissed.
“The law is clear that even when one member of a tribunal is biased, the decision of the full panel is irreparably tainted,” Goldberg said.
The lawsuit claims that the memo highlighted “numerous, flagrant, knowing, and intentional” violations in the investigation—violations that representatives on the committee ignored.
In the memo, Blake Chisam, then staff director and chief counsel of the ethics committee, claimed that the two prosecution lawyers had compiled misleading documents for members of the subcomittee that censured Rangel. According to Chisam, the documents suggested that Rangel had accepted a donation to the Rangel Center from American Insurance Group in exchange for supporting a corporate tax provision in Congress.
“The theory—that AIG was involved in a quid pro quo with Rangel—was prejudicial to my case and Rep. Rangel,” Chisam wrote. “Further, I would add that, based on hours of interviews and documents, it was also wholly unsupported by the record.”
The memo also alleged that both lawyers made racist comments that raised concern about their ability to impartially investigate Rangel, who is African-American.
“This is a sad day for those under the mistaken belief that the long arm of racism had ended,” Goldberg said. “But, unhappily and apparently, it has not.”
Representatives at Rangel’s offices in New York and Washington, D.C., both declined to comment on the case. Representatives for Adriano Espaillat, the state senator who narrowly lost to Rangel in the 2012 election, also declined to comment.