Rep. Charlie Rangel is launching a concerted counterattack against The New York Times

He may fear “death by a thousand cuts” — a stream of damning newspaper stories, private grumblings from Democratic colleagues, a pending ethics investigation — but insiders say House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel has no intention of giving up his powerful post.

To the contrary, the New York Democrat is launching a concerted counterattack against The New York Times, which reported last week that Rangel helped retain a multimillion-dollar tax loophole for an oil drilling company at the same time that the company’s CEO was pledging $1 million to the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, is denying GOP charges that she has interfered with the House ethics committee’s investigation into Rangel by promising that the panel’s probe would be completed by the end of the 110th Congress.

Although Pelosi said last week that she’d received “assurances” that the committee would finish its investigation before Jan. 3, her office says she was referring to assurances from her own staff that the committee typically completes its investigations that quickly — and not to any inappropriate, inside communication she received from committee members themselves.

That Pelosi’s office felt obliged to respond to the GOP complaints underscores the degree to which the continuing furor over Rangel — with new allegations of improprieties now surfacing regularly — has become a major problem for the speaker and her colleagues in the Democratic leadership. Republicans have tried to tie Democrats to Rangel, and some Democrats have begun to say privately that Rangel should step down in order to allow them to press ahead, undistracted and untainted, with President-elect Barack Obama’s plans for dealing with the economy.

Rangel’s ethics problems grew significantly worse last week after the Times reported that Rangel met on Feb. 12, 2007, with Eugene Isenberg, the CEO of oil drilling company Nabors Industries, about retaining a tax loophole worth millions of dollars to the company. On the same morning, the Times said, Rangel and Isenberg discussed Isenberg’s $1 million pledge to the Rangel center.

Isenberg first made a $100,000 donation to the Rangel center in December 2006 and followed that up with another $100,000 on Feb. 7, 2007, according to the Times.

Rangel has vehemently denied any link between Isenberg’s donation and his committee’s action — or even that he was aware of Isenberg’s contribution, — and aides to Rangel have raised questions about the accuracy of the Times story.

Rangel, however, has yet to fully explain why he met with Isenberg and his lobbyist, Ken Kies, on the same day as a committee markup.

Neither Isenberg nor Kies, considered by many to be the top tax lobbyist in Washington, were available for comment on Monday.

Kies and Isenberg have never donated to any of Rangel’s fundraising committees, although Kathleen Kies, Kies’ wife, gave $4,000 to Rangel’s reelection campaign on June 29, 2007, according to Federal Election Commission records.

On Monday, Rangel’s aides said that the Ways and Means Committee in 2007 never considered eliminating the loophole that benefited Nabors. Thus, they say, Rangel could not have blocked the measure.
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