The U.S. House is being asked to censure Democratic Representative Charles Rangel of New York for violating ethics rules, the first time the chamber will sit in judgment of a member in eight years.
The House ethics committee yesterday recommended the penalty for Rangel, the former chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. The full House will take up the matter after the Nov. 25 Thanksgiving holiday.
After hearing the recommendation, Rangel, 80, 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.” He declined to comment after the proceedings.
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 were Representatives Gerry Studds, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Daniel Crane, an Illinois Republican, in 1983 for sexual misconduct with House pages.
An eight-member subcommittee on Nov. 16 found that Rangel committed 11 violations of 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.
Under the proposed penalty, Rangel would appear on the floor of the House while the resolution of censure is read. The committee said the proposed penalty reflected the “cumulative nature of the violations and not any direct personal financial gain.” It is the culmination of a two-year investigation of the lawmaker.
The ethics committee, equally split between Democrats and Republicans, recommended censure on a 9-1 vote. Committee counsel Blair Chisam recommended censure.
The committee also instructed Rangel to pay back taxes on rental income he earned from a villa in the Dominican Republic.
While the announcement by committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, didn’t specify how each lawmaker voted, Representative G.K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat, said earlier that he wouldn’t support censuring Rangel.
“The facts of this case do not warrant a censure,” Butterfield said before the committee met in secret to decide on punishment.
‘Wasn’t Hiding Anything’
“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.
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,” 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 yesterday’s meeting by fellow Democratic Representative John Lewis of Georgia, 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.
Rangel apologized for his actions.
“There is no excuse for my acts of omission and failures to abide by the rules of Congress,” he said in a statement yesterday. “I have made many mistakes that I will forever regret, and I apologize for them.”
Rangel walked out of the 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 yesterday’s meeting without a lawyer.