WASHINGTON (CBS NewYork/ AP) –The House ethics committee’s chief counsel recommended Thursday that veteran Rep. Charles Rangel of New York be censured for financial and fundraising misconduct as lawmakers neared closure on a 2 1/2-year-long scandal.
The committee deliberated behind closed doors Thursday after counsel Blake Chisam made his recommendation and Rangel pleaded for fairness, telling the panel he was not a crooked politician.
Chisam’s recommendation was that Rangel receive the most serious congressional discipline short of expulsion. A censure resolution would require a vote by the House disapproving Rangel’s conduct and the speaker would orally administer an embarrassing rebuke to the 20-term Democrat in front of his colleagues.
The ethics committee, made up of five Democrats and five Republicans, could opt for lighter punishments, such as a reprimand, fine or a report deploring Rangel’s behavior.
The full House would have to vote on a reprimand or fine, but Rangel would be spared the embarrassment of being rebuked at the front of the chamber, called the well. The House also could change the recommended discipline by making it more serious or less serious.
Rangel, 80, who has served in the House for 40 years, ended a sanctions hearing with an emotional plea to salvage his reputation.
Before speaking, he sat for several minutes trying to compose himself. He placed his hands over his eyes and then his chin, before he slowly stood up and said in a gravelly voice that was barely audible: “I don’t know how much longer I have to live.”
Facing the committee members, he asked them to “see your way clear to say, ‘This member was not corrupt.”’
He continued: “There’s no excuse for my behavior and no intent to go beyond what has been given to me as a salary. I apologize for any embarrassment I’ve caused you individually and collectively as a member of the greatest institution in the world.”
In the most dramatic clash of the proceeding, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, questioned the assertion of Rangel – the former chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee – that he wasn’t corrupt.
“Failure to pay taxes for 17 years. What is that?” McCaul asked, referring to Rangel’s shortchanging the Internal Revenue Service on rental income from his villa in the Dominican Republic.
McCaul also noted the committee’s finding that Rangel solicited donors for the Charles B. Rangel Center at City College of New York from donors who had business before the Ways and Means Committee.
After an investigation that began in the summer 1998, Rangel was convicted Tuesday by a jury of his House peers on 11 of 13 charges of rules violations.
He was found to have improperly used official resources – congressional letterheads and staff – to raise funds from businesses and foundations for the Rangel Center. A brochure with some of Rangel’s solicitation letters asked for $30 million, or $6 million a year for five years.
He also was found guilty of filing a decade’s worth of misleading annual financial disclosure forms that failed to list hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets, and failure to pay taxes on his Dominican unit.
Chisam said donations to the Rangel Center were going poorly, then spiked after Rangel rose to the top of the Ways and Means Committee. He noted the center would benefit minority students and asked, “What kid of example is that of what public service ought to be?”
Chisam asked what a neighbor of Rangel would think after she was evicted from her apartment in Harlem’s Lennox Terrace, for violating terms of her lease – and then learning Rangel was allowed to convert a residential-only unit into a campaign office. Others were evicted for similar offenses, the committee found.
“How would that influence her faith in government?” Chisam asked.
And Chisam asked how a waitress struggling to pay her taxes on income and tips would feel about Rangel not paying taxes on rental money from his vacation villa.
Rangel brought in Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, to give a testimonial for the congressman to the panel. Lewis called his colleague “a good and decent man” and said Rangel had worked tirelessly to advance civil rights.
Before Chisam commenced his remarks, Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Ala., told committee colleagues that Rangel needed only to “look in the mirror to know who to blame” for his predicament.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., a former member of his state’s Supreme Court, said he believed the facts merited a reprimand, not a censure.
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