U.S. House ethics investigators recommended that New York Representative Charles Rangel be reprimanded for ethical violations, the chairman of the investigative subcommittee said today.
The four-member investigative committee traded several settlement offers with Rangel’s lawyers without ever reaching an agreement that required a vote, said Texas Democratic Representative Gene Green, who is chairman of the investigative subcommittee that presented 13 ethics charges against Rangel yesterday.
The charges included allegations that Rangel improperly solicited and obtained $8 million in donations from companies and private foundations with business before Congress to help finance an academic center to be built in his name at the City College of New York. The panel was not unanimous in adopting all of the 13 counts, Green said.
“The recommendation we had was a reprimand,” Green told reporters in Washington today. A reprimand would have to be voted on by the full House.
Green’s comments indicated the investigators’ view of the degree of severity of Rangel’s alleged ethical wrongdoing. More serious misconduct can lead to fines or expulsion.
The adjudicatory committee would make the recommendation for any penalty, which would follow a finding of ethical misconduct.
The full House must approve the more serious penalties such as reprimand, censure or expulsion, said Stefan Passantino, an ethics lawyer in Washington who represented former House Speakers Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert, both Republicans, before the ethics panel.
It would be difficult for lawmakers in either party to settle on a reprimand for Rangel in light of the charges, Passantino said. He said the reprimand recommendation “doesn’t carry a great deal of weight” because it isn’t normally part of the subcommittee’s procedures.
Its disclosure was made “for political purposes” to “minimize a very bad day” for Rangel and Democrats, said Passantino.
Rangel met with the subcommittee twice in the last two months as the probe was reaching its conclusion, Green said. He was questioned under oath last December.
Green declined to describe Rangel’s attitude during those meetings.
“If we could have reached a settlement we would have recommended that,” Green told reporters in Washington. “But that didn’t happen.”
Asked whether the failure to settle the case meant that Rangel refused to accept a reprimand, Green said “there were other issues.” He declined to elaborate on those issues.
Rangel’s attorneys may have been talking to staff lawyers on the full Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, Green said. “But there was no discussion for the last two weeks with the subcommittee,” he said.
Any subsequent settlement talks would have to take place with the adjudicatory subcommittee that is comprised of four Republicans and four Democrats, Green said.
Republicans on the committee said yesterday that Rangel passed up numerous chances to settle the case.
“Let me be clear that Mr. Rangel” was “given opportunities to negotiate a settlement during the investigation phase,” Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, said at the hearing. “We are now in the trial phase.”
McCaul’s comments are significant because a bipartisan majority would be required to approve any settlement that Rangel’s attorneys might reach with staff attorneys.
A public hearing on the charges, which won’t occur until after Congress returns from its August recess, could be politically awkward before the November election that will determine whether the Democrats retain control of the House and Senate.
Connecticut Representative John Larson, who is chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said the case against Rangel is “gut-wrenching” for his colleagues. Still, Rangel should have his “day in court, as awkward as that can be” if the veteran lawmaker chooses not to settle the case, he said.
Rangel should be afforded the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to answer the charges, Larson said. “You have to allow for both the integrity of the process and the individual,” he said.
Rangel, 80, who has served in Congress since 1971, stepped down as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee in March after the ethics panel found he had broken House rules by accepting corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean.
Members of New York’s congressional delegation rallied around Rangel, expressing support at their regular meeting, lawmakers said.
“The New York delegation feels very strongly” and is “very supportive of Charlie Rangel,” particularly “when you look into what he has done for the city and the nation,” said Representative Edolphus Towns, a fellow New York Democrat. “There is no criminality here.”
“Everyone is wishing him the best,” said Democratic Representative Jose Serrano, who represents a nearby House district in the Bronx. “He feels he can be vindicated.”