Today's House Ethics Committee hearing about the alleged crimes of Rep. Charles Rangel took an interesting turn as Rangel walked out of the hearing, citing a desire for legal representation and objecting to the Committee denying it to him. At first, I had the reaction a lot of people did: shock and amusement.
Yet, if you really think about it, Rangel's actions today were part of a brilliant political move designed to minimize the damage to himself and the Democratic Party. At this point, I honestly do not believe Rangel ever intended to testify before the House Ethics Committee because to do so would have meant he would be under oath. Lying to Congress could be grounds for a contempt of Congress charge, which would have made things a lot tougher on Rangel. What he needed was a way for his side of the story to get an airing, but not subject himself to the possibility of lying under oath to Congress.
That's where Rangel had an ace up his sleeve, or to be more precise, two. The chair of the House Ethics Committee is Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). Until Republicans fill that position in January, Lofgren is still the Chair, which means she controls how things will go. That gives Rangel at least one sympathetic ear. The other ace is Blake Chisam, the staff director and chief counsel of the House Ethics Committee. He has direct ties to...you guessed it, Zoe Lofgren. And as Rangel's primary defender before the Committee, he was the voice Rangel needed. That made Rangel bulletproof, politically speaking. He had nobody at home who would take him to task (he won reelection handily in his home District), and the likelihood of the House Ethics Committee punishing him beyond a slap on the wrist during a lame duck session of Congress was high. He really didn't need to be there, so he made a scene and walked out.
This was the best defense he could have concocted, and he played it brilliantly. It also takes a lot of heat off the Democrats because it would have been harder and harder for them to defend him if the hearing went on beyond a day or two. As it stands, the Ethics Committee should be ruling on the matter by the end of the week, thus putting the issue behind the Democrats once and for all.
He may be a dishonest scumbag, but I have to give Charles Rangel credit for such a brilliant political move.