MSNBC's Mitchell: 'Are Black Lawmakers Being Singled-Out' for Ethics Violations?

Racial Tensions Headline, MSNBC's During her 1PM ET hour show on Monday, MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell promoted allegations from the Congressional Black Caucus that ethics investigations into Democrats Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters are racially motivated: "Are black lawmakers being singled out by the ethics watchdogs on Capitol Hill? New charges of racial bias."

After detailing the accusations against California Congresswoman Waters, Mitchell noted the formal ethics charges filed against New York Congressman Rangel and touted his defense: "...he, we now know, tried to point out that Mitch McConnell and others allegedly did the same thing, trying to raise money for a center named after them. He's claiming that this is a matter of bias."

Mitchell's guest, Politico editor-in-chief John Harris, continued to make the case: "...that there is a clear double standard and they're asking why is it that the new congressional ethics procedures seem to be the result of that, seem to be a number of African-Americans that are getting put under a tough ethical microscope....They say that there seems to be a pattern that reflects, they're alleging, a racial bias."

Similarly, on Sunday's CNN Newsroom, anchor Don Lemon interviewed the Reverend Al Sharpton and wondered: "...some are openly questioning why two high profile African-American House members are coming under such tough scrutiny. Do you think that black members are being targeted unfairly by the Ethics Committee?"

After Mitchell wondered if there was an "analogy" between the violations Rangel has been accused of and actions Republican members of Congress have taken in the past, Harris sympathetically observed: "...what has happened to Congressman Charlie Rangel is that the – sort of the ethical standards of the institution, both the specific rules and the expectations, change over time." Harris went on to add: " Remember Charlie Rangel came into the Congress as a reformer....so things that he considered unexceptional, in fact, become objectionable under the new standards."

Mitchell followed up by again pointing to Republicans supposedly being guilty of similar things: "But soliciting money for his institute at CCNY in New York City, which is something that Mitch McConnell, Jake Garn, other former senators, all seem to have done, Jesse Helms. So there are a lot of Republicans who've been in this context and nobody's even talking about Senator John Ensign and all the stuff that's going on over there."

However, Mitchell did acknowledge the extensive tax allegations against Rangel that could not be explained away: "But he doesn't focus, of course, in that defense, on the tax charges, and $600,000 in income. I mean there is a litany of taxes that were allegedly not paid and of course, the rent controlled apartments and the like." Harris replied: "That's right and that's why Democrats are not eager for a full public airing of this."

Mitchell concluded: "It would be pretty stunning to have two trials going on in the Ethics Committee of two such high-profile members of the Congressional Black Caucus at the same time. And I think you're going to see a lot of backlash there as well, politically."

Here is a full transcript of Mitchell's August 2 segment with Harris:
1:00PM TEASE

ANDREA MITCHELL: And are the ethics police on the Hill color-blind? If so, just how do you explain what's happening to the Congressional Black Caucus? The latest on the Rangel and Maxine Waters investigations from Politico's John Harris.

1:21 PM TEASE

MITCHELL: And coming up here, are black lawmakers being singled out by the ethics watchdogs on Capitol Hill? New charges of racial bias.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Ethics Cases & Racial Tensions]

1:24PM SEGMENT

MITCHELL: California Congresswoman Maxine Waters now fighting ethics charges of her own after reportedly intervening with regulators on behalf of a California bank on which her husband once served as a board member and holds stock. And reports indicate that the powerful Congresswoman is also refusing to cut a deal to avoid a public Ethics Committee trial. And this, of course, following on the Charlie Rangel embarrassment for House Democrats.

Andrea Mitchell and John Harris, MSNBC's Well, some members of the Black Caucus are crying foul. Politico editor-in-chief John Harris joins us now. John, what is the beef here? This certainly came up in Rangel's defense, where he, we now know, tried to point out that Mitch McConnell and others allegedly did the same thing, trying to raise money for a center named after them. He's claiming that this is a matter of bias.

JOHN HARRIS: Right and that there is a clear double standard and they're asking why is it that the new congressional ethics procedures seem to be the result of that, seem to be a number of African-Americans that are getting put under a tough ethical microscope. And, in fact, having the equivalent, the congressional equivalent, of charges brought against them. They say that there seems to be a pattern that reflects, they're alleging, a racial bias.

MITCHELL: Well, do you think that there is a real analogy here between what Congressman Rangel allegedly did and what other members, and he seems to be pointing to Republicans in the Senate, did. Clearly not talking about what other House Democrats did.

HARRIS: I mean, I think what happened – what is true and what has happened to Congressman Charlie Rangel is that the – sort of the ethical standards of the institution, both the specific rules and the expectations, change over time. Remember Charlie Rangel came into the Congress as a reformer. He replaced Adam Clayton Powell, who got caught up in ethical controversies in the 1960s. And so things that he considered unexceptional, in fact, become objectionable under the new standards. And I do think there's – he's right about this, there does tend to be random element to – like 'this is okay and passes muster but that doesn't.' That's without trying to pass comment on the particular charges against him, whether they're valid or not valid. I do, as a generic matter, believe that sometimes it's somewhat random how these rules get applied.

MITCHELL: He does seem to be, In his own defense, cherry picking it a bit. He's talking about the fundraising, soliciting money from people who had business in front of the House or any business or any foundation has business in front of the tax committee. But soliciting money for his institute at CCNY in New York City, which is something that Mitch McConnell, Jake Garn, other former senators, all seem to have done, Jesse Helms. So there are a lot of Republicans who've been in this context and nobody's even talking about Senator John Ensign and all the stuff that's going on over there. So that is one point. But he doesn't focus, of course, in that defense, on the tax charges, and $600,000 in income. I mean there is a litany of taxes that were allegedly not paid and of course, the rent controlled apartments and the like.

HARRIS: That's right and that's why Democrats are not eager for a full public airing of this. Not so subtle comments, of course, we saw at the end of last week from President Obama, saying he's sure that Charlie Rangel wants to end his career with dignity. But I'm not so sure that what he doesn't want to end it with is a clear attempt at vindication. He's so far not taken the kind of, 'hey could you just move along' hints that have come from President Obama and from some other Democrats.

MITCHELL: It would be pretty stunning to have two trials going on in the Ethics Committee of two such high-profile members of the Congressional Black Caucus at the same time. And I think you're going to see a lot of backlash there as well, politically. Thanks so much, John Harris.

HARRIS: That's right. Thanks, Andrea. See you.

MITCHELL: See you.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC