The House Ethics Committee voted 9-1 to recommend that Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) be censured by the full House and required to pay restitution for any unpaid taxes.
The Rangel case will move to the full House for a vote in this current, lame-duck Congress, which has a Democrat majority led by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Rangel was sentenced to be censured by the committee for the 11 ethical violations, for which he was convicted earlier this week. Thursday’s sanction is only the 17th time that the Ethics Committee has punished one of its own.
“It is my unwavering view that the actions, the decisions, and the behavior of our colleague form New York can no longer reflect either honor or integrity,” said the ranking member of the House Ethics Committee, Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.).
Rangel represented himself for the sentencing phase of his ethics trial. Despite the guilty verdict, Rangel continued to deny using his office for personal gain and only said he’s guilty of “irresponsible behavior” of the House rules.
The prosecution recommended censure, primarily because Rangel used his powerful Chair of the Ways and Means Committee for personal benefit. Rangel used his public office to raise money for his legacy project, the Charles B. Rangel Center at the City College of New York.
“After the 2006 election, after it was clear that the respondent would become chair of the Ways and Means Committee, the college started to get larger contributions. The donors, they had business or interests before the Congress,” stated Chief Counsel Blake Chisam, who led the prosecution. “Just the appearance of that alone is striking. How does it help ensure trust in government?”
The prosecutor said that Rangel’s “position in Congress mattered and everyone knew it. The staff understood it. The college understood it. The donors understood it. Even those who did not give understood it.”
Rangel was convicted for charges related to four major areas: using his congressional office to solicit donations for his legacy Rangel Center; filing inaccurate official financial disclosure forms; using a rent-controlled apartment for his campaign; and not paying taxes on rental income from his villa in the Dominican Republic.
The congressman has paid the $2 million on legal fees with political donations to his campaign and leadership PAC, which is against House rules. He parted ways with his most expensive legal team, so he came to came to the sentencing without any lawyers.
(Defense attorney Abbe Lowell,who represtend Bill Clinton during impeachment, came with Rangel to the trial earlier in the week. Lowell denied to HUMAN EVENTS that he was present as a lawyer, thus not violating the ethics gift ban.)
Civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-GA.) sat next to Rangel at the defendant’s table for much of the day and spoke on his behalf.
“Mr. Rangel can no longer blame anyone other than himself for the position he now finds himself in. Not this committee. Not his staff or family. Not the accountants or lawyers. Not the press. Mr. Rangel should only look into the mirror if he wants to know who to blame,” said Rep. Bonner.
Rangel was defiant to the end, blaming the media for the ethics trial. “What the press has done to me, my community, and my family is totally unfair,” said Rangel, more subdued than usual. “They will continue to call me a crook and charge me with being corrupt.”
The Constitution gives power to Congress to punish its members. “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behavior, and, with the Concurrence of two-thirds, expel a Member,” states article one, section five of the constitution.
“The purpose of the ethics process is not punishment, but accountability and credibility. Accountability for the respondent and credibility for the House itself,” said The House Ethics Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).
The House Ethics committee ruled on Tuesday that Rangel was guilty of 11 of the 13 ethical charges against him. On Thursday, the prosecution recommended that the committee sanction Rangel with censure by the House.
“Other sanctions require action by the full House, among there our rules indicate that Reprimand is appropriate for serious violations, censure is appropriate for more serious violations, and expulsion is appropriate for the most serious violations,” said Lofgren to describe the option in sentencing for Rangel.
Expulsion was never a real option for this committee of his peers. But, punishing a fellow Member of Congress is a rare occurrence. The House Ethics Committee has only recommended expulsion for four Members of Congress (although many have resigned with the threat of expulsion.). The committee has only sanctioned four Members with censure (including Rangel) and nine with a reprimand.
The hair-splitting in Congress of reprimand or censure as punishment is meaningless to the American people.
“I’m not an attorney, as most of the members of this committee are, as well as the respondent,” said Rep. Bonner. “But it should not take either a law degree or a legal dictionary to tell us the difference between right and wrong.”
And, Charlie Rangel using his powerful position in Congress was very, very wrong.