WASHINGTON (AP/CBS 2) — In an extraordinary plea, Rep. Charles Rangel of New York asked supporters Wednesday to call the Capitol switchboard and urge their representatives to oppose a resolution to censure him.
The House is scheduled to vote Thursday on discipline for Rangel, whose fundraising and financial misdeeds violated House rules.
Rangel’s letter to 25,000 campaign supporters asked them to argue that a censure is excessive. He is expected to speak on the floor of the House to urge a lesser reprimand.
A censure and reprimand require votes disapproving Rangel’s conduct, but only a censure calls for him to stand in the front of the chamber and have the resolution read to him by the speaker.
It’s not unusual for groups to rally supporters to call the Capitol to oppose or support legislation. But it’s highly unusual in a disciplinary case.
Rangel was apologetic, writing, “I am truly sorry for my mistakes and would like your help in seeing that I am treated fairly.”
Rangel said the House ethics committee’s recommendation for censure “is excessive and that my lapses do not rise to the level of transgressions of those censured in the past.”
The 80-year-old Rangel must overcome the ethics panel’s 9-1 vote to recommend a censure — the most serious discipline short of expulsion.
On Tuesday, newly released documents showed Rangel’s lawyers were bogged down with procedural issues in his ethics case — possibly explaining how he ended up unable to pay them and was forced to represent himself.
The documents were presented to the House Tuesday by its ethics committee, the final step before a vote on a resolution to censure Rangel for financial and fundraising misconduct. The vote is likely this week.
Shortly before Rangel’s Nov. 15 ethics trial, his defense team from the Zuckerman Spaeder law firm withdrew after the congressman said he could no longer pay them.
Rangel, who changed firms during the case, has said he spent about $2 million in legal fees from his campaign funds. Federal election records show about $1.4 million went to the Zuckerman firm.
The documents show that the defense team sparred with the ethics committee and, at one point, misunderstood the rules for responding to charges of ethics violations.
Ultimately, Rangel broke through the procedural morass and spoke on the floor of the House to answer 13 counts of ethics violations – 11 of which eventually were adopted by the ethics committee.
He said he erred in his failure to pay taxes on rental income from his villa in the Dominican Republic and in his incomplete financial disclosure reports, but never intended to break House rules.
He walked out of his ethics trial Nov. 15, saying his lawyers abandoned him and he could not defend himself without more time to hire a new defense team. The trial went on without him.
One example of the attorneys getting bogged down: a demand by the Zuckerman team last August that a Republican member of the ethics committee, Republican Michael McCaul of Texas, withdraw from the investigation.
With almost no chance of success, attorney Deborah Jeffrey wrote McCaul that he was biased because of his past criticism of Rangel’s efforts to raise money — including public funds — for a college center named after himself.
One of Rangel’s violations was his use of official stationery and congressional staff to solicit contributions for the Rangel Center at City College of New York. The ethics committee found that donors were businesses and foundations with business before the Ways and Means Committee.
“How would a reasonable person in Congressman Rangel’s position (or that of his constituents) view your fairness or objectivity in this most important matter?” Jeffrey wrote McCaul.
McCaul responded, “I have no concern that any of my actions at any time have compromised my ability to be a fair and objective participant in these proceedings.”
Jeffrey didn’t give up. She fired back with a second letter to express her disappointment that McCaul wouldn’t bow out.
In another example, Rangel attorney Leslie Kiernan attempted to disqualify ethics committee lawyers who advised the panel that investigated Rangel — and a separate panel that judged him.
Kiernan submitted a proposed order for ethics committee Chairman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., to sign, disqualifying the committee’s attorneys.
The defense team then withdrew the motion a day later.
Last July, Lofgren wrote Rangel that his counsel submitted a response to the ethics charges that was not signed under oath.
Kiernan, the defense lawyer, tried to submit a corrected statement, which also failed to contain a proper oath, Lofgren said.
Kiernan responded, “We do not understand the basis for the committee’s conclusion.”
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)