Rangel Sues to Overturn Censure

John Boehner

Mr. Rangel, Democrat of New York, is seeking to overturn the censure.

At the time of his censure, he acknowledged that he had made mistakes, saying “I brought it on myself.” But he challenged the censure vote, one of the most severe punishments the House can impose, saying his misdeeds were a result of sloppiness, not corruption.

The lawsuit, filed on Monday in Federal District Court here, claims that the House ethics committee broke its own rules during its investigation of Mr. Rangel, including the inappropriate sharing of confidential evidence by investigators with Republicans on the committee. He also claims that he was denied the right to cross-examine witnesses during his hearing, and that some of the investigators had made racist statements.

Those violations were so serious, Mr. Rangel’s lawyer argues, that if they had become public at the time of the ethics investigation, the charges against Mr. Rangel, who is black, most likely would have been dismissed.

Before filing the lawsuit, Mr. Rangel had tried to push the ethics committee, which is under new leadership, to reconsider his case — an exhibit filed as part of the lawsuit includes 73 pages worth of correspondence between Mr. Rangel’s lawyer, Jay Goldberg of New York, and the committee since the censure.

The committee, in an action not previously made public, reviewed claims raised by Mr. Rangel continuing until late last year, before unanimously concluding not to reopen the matter, the court documents show.

“There is no legal or factual basis supporting a conclusion that you have been deprived of any constitutional rights in your proceeding,” reads a December 2012 ethics committee letter to Mr. Rangel, signed by the Republican chairman and the ranking Democrat and included in the court documents.

Disappointed with this outcome, Mr. Rangel moved to the federal court, asking it in the lawsuit filed this week to order the House to “vacate such unconstitutional government action” and to “strike and remove the recording of the censure.”

The suit is filed against lawmakers including Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, and Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California, who was the chairwoman of the ethics committee at the time of the initial inquiry.

Stan Brand, a Washington lawyer who handles ethics investigations and formerly served as the general counsel to the House, said that other lawmakers, like former Senator Harrison A. Williams Jr. of New Jersey, had turned to the federal courts to challenge Congressional ethics investigations, but without success.

“Federal courts have been reluctant to weigh in in internal disciplinary matters,” Mr. Brand said. “In fact, they have steadfastly refused to do so.”

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