- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2010

An emotional last-minute plea for leniency by Rep. Charles B. Rangel fell short Thursday as a House panel recommended that the New York Democrat face a public scolding on the floor of the House of Representatives for a string of financial and fundraising transgressions.

The 9-1 vote by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct sets up the extraordinary prospect of one of Capitol Hill’s most powerful figures being forced to stand in the well of the chamber and be officially censured as a record of his misdeeds are read out to members.

The ethics committee made the recommendation two days after concluding that Mr. Rangel, a former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and one of the Hill’s most prominent lawmakers, was guilty of 11 charges that he violated House ethics rules regarding financial reporting, use of official resources and fundraising. The committee also ordered Mr. Rangel to repay any unpaid back taxes related to the charges, a bill estimated at about $17,000.

“We have worked hard together in this matter in a way that has actually been quite wrenching, and we are satisfied to be concluded,” committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat, said in a statement. Mr. Rangel declined to comment on the verdict, noting that the matter was now in the hands of the full House of Representatives.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, called the verdict a “sad day for Mr. Rangel,” but the ethics committee stopped short of the ultimate punishment — expulsion — meted out only five times in the history of the House of Representatives. But a censure is considered more serious that a reprimand, which many expected the panel to recommend for the 20-term lawmaker from Harlem.

The full House is expected to take up the matter before the lame-duck session adjourns at the end of the year. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, the Ohio Republican in line to be the next speaker, told reporters, “I believe that dealing with this as soon as possible is in the best interest of the institution and Mr. Rangel.”

Committee counsel R. Black Chisam, during a nearly five-hour hearing to determine a punishment, said he thought a censure was the most appropriate sanction,and the ten members of the panel - five Democrats and five Republicans - agreed after deliberating in a closed-door session for just three hours. Mr. Chisam said he recommended the censure over a reprimand in part because of Mr. Rangel’s prominence and the influence he wielded as chairman of one of the House’s most powerful committees.

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 drama reached a high point as the proceedings were concluding when Rep. Peter Welch, Vermont Democrat, asked Mr. Rangel whether he had a message for his constituents.

Mr. Rangel, 80, teared up and took nearly a minute to compose himself. He apologized to his colleagues for the ordeal of the two-year ethics probe and insisted once again that “Charlie Rangel never sought any personal gain” despite his admitted failings.

“I just hope no matter what you decide in the sanctions that you put in that report that Congressman Rangel never sought any personal gains,” he said. “I’ve been overpaid in terms of the satisfaction I’ve gotten from everything.”

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, oblivious to the committee members as they quietly filed out of the room.

The charges against Mr. Rangel fell into four broad categories: that he used congressional stationery and other official resources to help raise money for an 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.

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

At the start of the day, a combative Mr. Rangel 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.

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 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 expelled five members in its history. The most recent was James Traficant, Ohio Democrat, who had been convicted of felony corruption charges. Three of the congressmen on the list were Southern representatives at the time of the Civil War.

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 House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, to “drain the swamp” of corruption on Capitol Hill.

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