Why won’t Charlie Rangel take a plea bargain to shut down the House ethics probe that threatens to do serious damage to the midterm efforts of Democrats? A panel on Fox News offers a couple of intriguing possibilities, including the idea that a plea bargain may leave Rangel open to criminal prosecution. Two attorneys, one of whom worked for Rangel years ago, chew over the implications of the upcoming trial:
While the saying that Arthur Aidala quotes is applicable in the normal justice system, it’s hardly true that in Congress one can “indict a ham sandwich.” If that were true in any objective sense, we would have seen a lot more “indictments” from the Ethics Committee than we have over the last two years, or even twenty years. Let’s not forget that Rangel’s trial will be the first in eight years in the House, and the last time a member got punished in any way (aside from the reprimand given Joe Wilson for “you lie!”) was James Traficant in 2002, who got expelled after being convicted of corruption in office in criminal court. Before that, Newt Gingrich got reprimanded for ethics violations in 1997.
It seems very doubtful that Rangel will face any criminal charges, and certainly a plea deal could be created that offers no admission of criminal guilt anyway. If Rangel wanted to avoid getting on law enforcement’s radar screen, the worst thing he could do would be to choose to pursue a defense under oath in the House that would set him up for perjury traps. He’d be cutting deals rather than grandstanding if that was really the concern — and Rangel is most likely bluffing anyway to force Democrats to give him the best possible deal to salvage his re-election chances.