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US senator using 3-way defense against charges

world Updated: Aug 01, 2010 12:54 IST

To rebut a lengthy list of alleged ethical misdeeds, US Rep Charles Rangel is trotting out this three-way defense: I didn't do it. I did it, but was inattentive. Others lawmakers were allowed to do the same thing without penalty.

It's an approach that nervous Democrats are watching closely in one of the most politically explosive cases in years.

Should it go to a public trial this fall, smack in the middle of the election season, and should his defense fall short, that won't help Democratic candidates forced to defend their party's ethics against Republican campaign attacks.

The Republican Party already is demanding that specific Democratic candidates give up contributions provided by Rangel's political organisations, and about a half-dozen Democrats have asked the 20-term lawmaker to resign.

He's facing 13 counts of wrongdoing, including providing official favors in return for donations, hiding income and assets, and failing to pay taxes.

If Rangel's predicament wasn't bad enough for Democrats, there's an added complication on the ethics front: Democratic Rep Maxine Waters also may face an ethics trial this fall on allegations of improperly trying to help a bank, where her husband owned stock, that was seeking a federal bailout.

People familiar with the Waters investigation, who were not authorised to be quoted about charges before they are made public,say the allegations could be announced this coming week.

Rangel, 80, is a former chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. Waters, 71, is a prominent member of the House Financial Services Committee. Both have influential roles in matters affecting voters' pocketbooks - thereby linking the important issues of congressional ethics and the economy.