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Rep. Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York, leaves Ways and Means chairmanship

Rep. Charles Rangel announces that he has requested a leave of absence from his chairmanship of the ways and means committee in a brief statement Wednesday morning.

The ethics committee has not yet said when it will issue rulings on these matters. But, according to a source familiar with the ongoing probes, draft reports of two yet-to-be-released investigations could bring punishment of the 20-term lawmaker. According to two sources, investigators learned that Rangel sometimes signed his financial disclosure statements, which all members are required to submit, without reading them.

On Thursday, the ethics committee reprimanded Rangel after concluding that his staff was aware that corporations, including American Airlines, financed his 2007 and 2008 trips to Caribbean resorts for conferences. That broke new House rules forbidding such privately financed travel. Although the committee could not conclude that Rangel knew of the backing, the panel found him culpable because his staff had knowledge of the corporate underwriting.

Many lawmakers said in interviews this week that anything short of total exoneration in the pending investigations would make it politically impossible for Rangel to return as chairman.

Such an outcome could serve as a painful end to one of the most colorful careers on Capitol Hill for a man whose autobiography was titled "And I Haven't Had a Bad Day Since," a reference to his heroics during a harrowing moment in the Korean War after growing up in Harlem.

Elected in 1970, he ran as a reformer and ousted an ethically challenged incumbent, Adam Clayton Powell Jr.

Rangel was a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, but many colleagues have said recently that Rangel wasn't prepared for the new political era of constant media scrutiny and intense oversight.

In relenting to political pressure and stepping aside, Rangel told his colleagues that members of Congress are elected to serve their country and their party, and that Wednesday's choice was an effort to put his party first. "It just seems to me that I should not do anything that would impede the success of other Democrats," he told reporters.

Staff writer Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.

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