- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2010

The chief counsel for the House Ethics Committee Thursday recommended that New York Democratic Rep. Charles B. Rangel be censured after the panel concluded he was guilty of 11 violations of House rules regarding financial reporting, use of official resources and fund-raising.

The recommendation by counsel R. Blake Chisam would be more serious than a reprimand, but stops short of calling for the 20-term Harlem lawmaker’s expulsion from the House. The ten members of the panel — five Democrats and five Republicans — concluded the nearly five-hour session around 3 p.m., going into executive session behind closed doors to deliberate.

Mr. Rangel, who walked out in protest on a hearing earlier this week to consider the charges, offered a lengthy, at times rambling, defense of his actions Thursday morning. But the emotional high point of the day came when panel member Rep. Peter Welch, Vermont Democrat, asked the 80-year-old Mr. Rangel as the proceedings were concluding if he had a message for his constituents.

Mr. Rangel teared up and took nearly a minute to compose himself, apologizing to his colleagues for the ordeal and insisting once again that “Charlie Rangel never sought any personal gain” despite his admitted failings.

The silver-haired Mr. Rangel then sat alone at the defendant’s table, his eyes fixed on the ground and his chin resting on his folded hands, not looking at the committee members as they filed out of the hearing room.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Rangel, a former House Ways and Means Committee chairman and one of the most powerful black legislators on Congress, read from a lengthy statement in which he once again admitted to “numerous mistakes” and “acts of omission,” but denied he had personally profited from his actions or acted corruptly.

“Corruption and personal enrichment are certainly not part of my mistakes and [Mr. Chisam] made that abundantly clear,” Mr. Rangel said. Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat and like Mr. Rangel one of the Hill’s most prominent black lawmakers, offered a defense of Mr. Rangel’s integrity and record in a statement delivered to the committee.

It was not clear how long the full ethics panel, officially known as the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, would take to conclude its work and pass along a recommendation for the full House to consider.

Rep. John A. Boehner, the Ohio Republican in line to be the next speaker of the House, told reporters he favored quick action on the matter in the current lame-duck session of Congress.

“I believe dealing with this now is in the best interest of the institution and of the defendant,” he said.

According to a Congressional Research Service analysis, a censure is considered a more serious punishment because it typically involves a verbal admonition of the offending member by the Speaker of the House on the House floor. A reprimand, which like a censure must be approved by majority vote, can be adopted by a vote of the House with the member present or simply put into effect if the full House approves the Ethics Committee’s report.

The House has only expelled five members in its history, most recently former Rep. James Traficant, Ohio Democrat, after he was convicted of felony corruption charges.

Alabama Rep. Jo Bonner, the ranking Republican on the ethics panel, called the Rangel investigation a “long, difficult and unpleasant task,” and said he agreed with the defendant that the two-year-old case should have been wrapped up far more quickly. But he also said he had concluded Mr. Rangel’s behavior “no longer reflects the honor or integrity” of the House.

Noting that nearly 100 newly elected freshmen representatives were meeting in the same Capital Hill office building Thursday, Mr. Bonner said he found it “ironic and troublesome” that “a man who once wielded one of the most powerful gavels in town — and at one time was one of our most highly regarded colleagues —was showing so little regard and respect either for the institution he has long proclaimed to love or to the people of the 15th District of New York, whom he has claimed to proudly represent for some 40 years.”

The government ethics watchdog group CREW this week called on Mr. Rangel to resign, and House Republicans have used the case — and a second pending case against another prominent Democrat, Rep. Maxine Waters of California — to a deride promises by outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to “drain the swamp” of corruption on Capitol Hill.

After he declined to present a defense this week, an investigatory subcommittee found Mr. Rangel guilty on 11 charges that fell into four broad categories, including that Mr. Rangel used congressional stationery and other official resources to help raise money for a educational center at New York’s City College named after him; that he made significant omissions on his congressional financial-disclosure forms; that he improperly used a rent-controlled apartment as a campaign office; and that he failed to report income from a rental villa he owns at a resort in the Dominican Republic.

The subcommittee deadlocked on one charge that Mr. Rangel had violated House rules regarding accepting gifts.

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