House panel finds Rangel guilty on 11 ethics charges

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 16, 2010 

WASHINGTON — A congressional ethics panel found Rep. Charles Rangel guilty Tuesday on 11 counts of violating rules of the House of Representatives and is now weighing how to punish the New York Democrat.

A special eight-member bipartisan panel of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct announced its findings against Rangel after deliberating for hours behind closed doors following a rare trial.

"We have tried to act with fairness, led only by the fact of law," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., the chairman of the full committee. "And I believe we have accomplished that mission."

Rangel, 80, was accused of failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in income and assets, improper use of several rent-controlled apartments in his district, questionable fundraising efforts for a college center in New York that bears his name, and failing to pay taxes on property he owns in the Dominican Republic.

Rangel could face expulsion from the House, censure, or a reprimand. Congressional experts say that Rangel, who was elected to a 21st term earlier this month, likely will be reprimanded, the mildest form of punishment.

Rangel, the former chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax law, wasn't present when Lofgren read the panel's findings. He refused to participate in the panel's proceedings after it declined his request Monday for a postponement because he didn't have _ and couldn't afford _ legal representation after already spending $2 million on his defense.

After first saying he hadn't read the panel's decision, Rangel later released a statement denouncing it.

"How can anyone have confidence in the decision of the Ethics Subcommittee when I was deprived of due process rights, right to counsel and was not even in the room?" he said in the statement on his website. "I can only hope that the full committee will treat me more fairly, and take into account my entire 40 years of service to the Congress before making any decisions on sanctions."

The panel determined that Rangel was guilty on 11 of what initially were 13 charges against him. Two charges _ involving violations of postal service laws and House franking statutes _ were merged into one, which the panel concluded had "clear and convincing evidence" that Rangel violated rules.

Panelists split four-to-four on a count of whether there was convincing proof that Rangel broke the House's gift rule.

"Sitting in judgment of a fellow member, a colleague, is very difficult," said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the ranking member of the panel.

The panel's findings now go to the full ethics committee to determine punishment. The committee will forward its recommendation to the full House.

Blake Chisam, an ethics committee lawyer who acted as lead prosecutor in the case, told panel members Monday that there was little evidence that Rangel was corrupt or personally benefited financially from his violations.

He added that Rangel's main problems were that he was "overzealous" and "sloppy" with his personal finances.

"The ethics committee is doing its job," said Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I. "It's an unfortunate set of circumstances Rangel is in, but the process has to continue and the chips should fall where they may."

Regardless of whatever punishment the House ultimately delivers, some government watchdog groups think that Rangel should resign from Congress.

"Mr. Rangel violated numerous House rules and federal laws," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "Whether these violations were deliberate or inadvertent, the American people deserve to be represented by members of Congress who adhere to the highest ethical standards."

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