By Susan Crabtree and Jordan Fabian - 11/18/10 11:14 PM EST
The House ethics committee recommended on Thursday by a vote of 9-1 that Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) be formally censured by the full House for 11 counts of violating ethics rules.
The panel also ordered Rangel to pay restitution of any unpaid taxes.
Short of expulsion, censure is the most serious sanction the ethics panel can recommend. Only 22 House members have been censured in the history of the chamber.
A majority of the full House would have to vote to censure Rangel or lawmakers could opt for a lighter punishment. That vote likely will wait until after the Thanksgiving recess.
If the House votes in favor of censure, Rangel most likely would have to stand in the well of the House for a formal rebuke and reading of the censure resolution by outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). A reprimand would only require the House to formally adopt the investigative committee’s report on Rangel’s activities.
Before the committee made its decision, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) argued for a lighter punishment than censure and reminded the committee that Rangel received a purple heart and a bronze star for his heroism in the Korean War. Butterfield, who is under investigation by the ethics committee for failing to repay excess travel per diems, or another member sympathetic to Rangel could offer a resolution calling for a reprimand or lesser punishment.
“The facts of the case do not, do not warrant a censure in my opinion,” Butterfield said. “Even counsel has acknowledged that deciding punishment is difficult in this case. Censure is extreme and should be restricted to personal conduct in which the [lawmaker] received personal gain.”
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) cautioned his colleagues that punishing Rangel would bring more scrutiny to each and every member of Congress and the political donations they receive from corporations and individuals.
“Where you draw the line is in the eye of the beholder,” he said.
Welch then gave Rangel an opportunity to make some final comments about the matter to his constituents.
Seemingly on the verge of tears, an emotional Rangel paused for several seconds before responding.
He thanked Welch for the “awkward opportunity.”
“I don’t know how much longer I have to live but it will always be to help people, and I thank God for what he has given to me,” he said.
He apologized for any embarrassment he has caused and stressed that he would like the panel to acknowledge that he never sought any personal gain and is not corrupt. Rangel also lashed out the press.
“What the press has done to me and my family is totally unfair and they will continue to call me a crook and call me corrupt,” he said.
Rangel, the 80-year-old, 20-term House veteran, admitted some fault in his initial statement to the panel, but added: "I had no intent to evade or avoid the law."
At several points during the hearing, Rangel angrily responded to questions from Republican lawmakers about whether his misdeeds constituted corruption.
Had witnesses testified during the hearing earlier this week, Rangel told the panel, it would have been clear that “there would not be even a suggestion of corruption.”
Rangel said the panel denied him the chance to call witnesses, but Lofgren refuted that charge, saying that he could have refused to agree to a request for summary judgment and called witnesses had he not walked out of the hearing on Monday.
Rangel also repeated testimony by Chisam, who earlier this week said Rangel was not corrupt but just “overzealous” and “sloppy” in his actions.
Storied civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) sat alongside Rangel at the beginning of the sanctions hearing, and referred to him as "my colleague, my brother."
Lewis said he didn't "know the facts in the case," but testified to Rangel's commitment and dedication to "hardworking Americans."
"He has always been a champion of those who had been left out and left behind," said Lewis, who mentioned Rangel's decorated Korean War service and his leadership during the civil rights era, when he marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others in Selma, Ala., for the right of African Americans to vote.
"Charlie Rangel is a good and decent man," he said. "I know this man ... I think I know his heart."
During the entire proceeding, Rangel appeared weary and diminished but far from contrite.
During a recess in the sanctions hearing, reporters mobbed him as he exited the hearing room.
Rangel angrily told the reporters that it wasn't appropriate to talk about anything outside the proceedings and appeared exasperated when an elevator wasn't readily available for him.
"Is there an elevator — is there an elevator?" he asked. "Son of a b----."
The sanctions hearing got off to a dramatic start when Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) harshly rebuked the veteran lawmaker for his actions this week.
Bonner, the ranking Republican on the House ethics committee, lectured Rangel for blaming others for his conviction on 11 counts of ethics violations instead of himself.
"It is painful for me to say this, but Mr. Rangel can no longer blame anyone but himself for the position he finds himself in,” Bonner said.
“Mr. Rangel should only look into the mirror if he wants someone to blame. … It should not take a law degree or a legal dictionary to determine right from wrong."
Bonner also said Rangel’s “distinguished military service is not up for debate, nor is it relevant.”
Bonner said the task of punishing Rangel is particularly “difficult and unpleasant” because “many a newly elected members … has been welcomed to the Capitol by that bigger-than-life, gravelly-voiced” congressman.
Rangel was convicted earlier this week by an adjudicatory panel of the Ethics committee on 11 counts of violating House rules.
The lawmakers on the panel found that Rangel had used House stationery and staff to solicit money for a school of public policy in his name at the City College of New York. They also concluded that he solicited donors for the center with interests before the Ways and Means Committee. Members of Congress are allowed to solicit money for nonprofit entities — even those bearing their names — as long as they do not use congressional letterhead or office resources to do so.
The ethics panel split 4-4 on a charge that Rangel violated the gift ban because the plans for the center included an office and the archiving of his personal and professional papers.
The panel also found Rangel guilty of using an apartment in Harlem zoned for residential use as his campaign office, failing to report more than $600,000 on his financial disclosure report and failing to pay taxes on rental income from a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic.