Get-out-of-jail-free card

Rep. Charles Rangel has been in the House, representing Harlem and neighboring environs, since 1971. He chairs the powerful Ways and Means Committee — the outfit that writes our tax laws.

It was recently disclosed that Rep. Rangel filed a grossly misleading financial-disclosure report for 2007 — failing to report at least $500,000 in assets.

It turns out Rep. Rangel had a credit-union account worth at least $250,000 and maybe as much as $500,000 — and didn’t report it. He had investment accounts worth about the same, which he also didn’t report. Ditto for three pieces of property in New Jersey.

Beyond that, it turns out Rep. Rangel failed to report assets totaling more than $1 million on legally required financial-disclosure forms going back to at least 2001.

The news comes on top of revelations last year that Rep. Rangel didn’t report — and didn’t pay taxes on — income from a villa in the Caribbean. In that matter, the IRS gave him a sweetheart deal; the congressman paid about $10,000 in back taxes but was not assessed any penalty or interest.

Can we have the guy who audited him?

Democrats are standing behind their chairman — after the latest revelations, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reaffirmed her support.

Shall Washington-watchers pretend to be “shocked, shocked,” by this level of arrogance, of presumption that “The rules don’t apply to me?”

Cynics could certainly point out Rep. Rangel’s constituents are simply getting the caliber of representation they deserve.

But the larger point here is what it could mean for the Democratic Party — widely held to be “on a roll” as little as 10 months ago — for the populace to see the leaders of that party, both in Congress and the White House, now shuffling their feet, gazing at the clouds, whistling a little tune, pretending to completely ignore the equivalent of a big bear making a mess in the corner of the living room.

It was the blind eye cast on the unethical behavior of their own members by the Republican leadership that led to their ouster by the voters a few short years ago. Do Democrats believe it can’t happen to them?

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