House ethics committee recommends censure for Rangel

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 18, 2010 

WASHINGTON — The House ethics committee recommended Thursday that 20-term Rep. Charles Rangel be censured by the House of Representatives for 11 counts of financial and fundraising misconduct, a punishment milder than expulsion from Congress but harsher than the reprimand many thought he'd receive.

In a 9 to 1 vote, the panel also recommended that Rangel, D-N.Y., the former chairman of the powerful, tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, pay back taxes dating back to the early 1990s.

The committee's recommendation now goes to the full House, which is likely to consider the recommendation after the Thanksgiving holiday. Rangel could be the first member of the House to be censured in almost three decades.

Before tearfully placing himself on the mercy of the committee, Rangel insisted he did nothing deliberately wrong or for personal financial benefit.

"There has never been any corruption or personal gain in my actions, as the committee's chief counsel noted," Rangel said in a written statement. "Neither has there been any intent on my part to violate House rules. My actions may have been sloppy, or even stupid, but never corrupt."

Still, Rangel said, "There is no excuse for my acts of omission and failures to abide by the rules of Congress. I have made many mistakes that I will forever regret, and I apologize for them."

A special trial-like ethics subcommittee panel Tuesday found Rangel, 80, guilty of failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in income and assets, improper use of several rent-controlled apartments in his Harlem district, questionable fundraising efforts for a City College of New York center that bears his name, and failing to pay taxes on his Dominican Republic property.

He argued that the panel denied him due process by not postponing the trial because he didn't have legal representation after his lawyers dropped him prior to the proceedings because of his inability to pay after already spending $2 million on his defense.

His postponement request refused, Rangel walked out of the trial Monday. Rangel's actions, and his explanations Thursday, didn't wash with Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Ala., the ethics committee's ranking Republican.

"It is my unwavering view that the action, decision and behavior of our colleague from New York can no longer reflect either honor or integrity," Bonner told ethics committee Chairman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. "I can't speak for the people in Mr. Rangel's district, but I do know this: For the tenants who qualified for a rent stabilized apartment in New York or any American city, but couldn't get one because a powerful man had four, there's something wrong with that."

Several congressional experts thought the committee would recommend that Rangel be reprimanded, one of the mildest forms of punishment available to the House.

But ethics committee chief counsel Blake Chisam recommended that censure would be more appropriate, saying that Rangel's actions warrant a harsher punishment.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., an ethics committee member, said he thought the censure penalty for Rangel was too harsh.

"The facts of this case do not warrant a censure in my opinion," said Butterfield, the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus on the ethics committee. " . . . Even counsel himself has acknowledged that the punishment decision is difficult and ranges between reprimand and censure."

A formal censure involves a vote on the House floor on a resolution of disapproval of an offending member's conduct. Usually, the punished lawmaker is required to stand in the well of the House to receive a verbal rebuke and reading of the censure resolution by the House speaker, according to a 2005 Congressional Research Service report.

In the history of the House, only five members have been expelled — three for disloyalty to the Union during the Civil War. The last expulsion was former Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio in 2002 following his conviction on a host of federal corruption charges.

Twenty-two House members have been censured, most recently the late Rep. Gerry Studds, D-Mass., in 1983 for having a sexual relationship with an underage male congressional page.

Only eight House members have been reprimanded, most recently former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., in 1997, for violations surrounding the funding of a televised course he taught.

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