The U.S. House ethics committee today recommended the full chamber censure Democratic Representative Charles Rangel, who admitted mistakes while seeking “fairness and mercy” for violating House rules.
The 9-1 recommendation by the committee, which is equally split between Democrats and Republicans, goes to the full House for action after the Thanksgiving holiday. Rangel, of New York, was found by an ethics subcommittee to have committed 11 violations of House rules. Censure is a mid-level form of punishment.
The committee also recommended that Rangel be instructed to pay back taxes on rental income he earned from a villa in the Dominican Republic.
Rangel, the former House Ways and Means Committee chairman, asked the ethics panel to make clear “that any action taken by me was not with the intention to bring any disgrace on the House or to enrich myself personally, or considered by counsel to be corrupt.”
The subcommittee on Nov. 16 found that Rangel, 80, violated House rules by using congressional stationery and staff to seek donations for an academic center named for him at City College of New York, by filing erroneous financial-disclosure statements, failing to pay taxes for 17 years on rental income, and by using a rent-controlled apartment as a campaign office.
Opposition to Censure
While ethics committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren’s announcement of the censure recommendation didn’t specify how each lawmaker voted, Representative G.K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat, said earlier that he wouldn’t support that such a sanction of Rangel.
“The facts of this case do not warrant a censure,” Butterfield said before the committee met in secret to decide on punishment.
“I was not trying to criminally hide anything from the IRS or the Congress,” Rangel told the committee. “I wasn’t hiding anything; it just wasn’t properly recorded.”
In paying his income taxes, “I paid whatever the accountant told me to pay,” he said.
Lofgren, a California Democrat, said that under committee standards, a reprimand would be appropriate for “serious violation” of House rules, censure for “more serious violations,” and expulsion for the “most serious violations.”
A censure would be a blemish on Rangel’s 40-year record in the House, though it wouldn’t keep him from continuing to serve.
“Public office is a public trust,” committee counsel Blair Chisam said in recommending censure. Rangel “violated that trust.”
Rangel, elected Nov. 2 to a 21st House term, stepped aside as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in March after the ethics panel said he broke House rules by accepting corporate-sponsored travel.
He was accompanied to today’s meeting by Representative John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who told the committee Rangel was a “patriotic American” and a “good and decent man.”
Ethics committee member Jo Bonner, an Alabama Republican, said Rangel “once wielded one of the most powerful gavels in town,” and yet showed “so little regard and respect” for the House or his constituents.
In a statement issued before today’s meeting, Rangel said, “There can be no excuse for my acts of omission.” He said, “I made numerous mistakes. But corruption and personal enrichment are certainly not part of my mistakes and the committee’s chief counsel made that abundantly clear.”
‘Drop of Fairness’
“I hope my four decades of service merit a sanction that is in keeping with and no greater than House precedents and also contains a drop of fairness and mercy,” Rangel’s statement said.
Rangel walked out of the ethics subcommittee’s Nov. 15 hearing on his case after the panel rejected his request for a delay to allow him to hire a new lawyer. He attended today’s meeting without a lawyer.
Rangel would be the first lawmaker sanctioned by the full House since Ohio Democrat Jim Traficant was expelled in 2002 following his conviction in criminal court of taking bribes and kickbacks. The last House members censured by the full chamber, in 1983, were Representatives Gerry Studds, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Daniel Crane, an Illinois Republican, for sexual misconduct with House pages.