Rangel found guilty on 11 ethics charges; expulsion unlikely
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), who was until his recent troubles one of the House's most powerful members, was found guilty Tuesday of breaking 11 separate congressional rules related to his personal finances and his fundraising efforts for a New York college.
The eight-lawmaker subcommittee that handled the trial - and reached a unanimous verdict on 10 of the counts - will now send the case to the full ethics committee for the equivalent of sentencing. Potential punishments include a formal reprimand or censure, with either of those needing to be ratified by a vote on the House floor. Expulsion is another possible penalty but is considered highly unlikely.
The full committee will begin considering Rangel's punishment Thursday.
Rangel was not present for the ruling. He walked out of the trial Monday after the panel rejected his request to delay the proceedings because he had no campaign money left to pay for a legal team. He had already spent $2 million on his defense.
He released a statement blasting the decision. "How can anyone have confidence in the decision of the Ethics Subcommittee when I was deprived of due process rights, right to counsel and was not even in the room?" it said. "I can only hope that the full Committee will treat me more fairly, and take into account my entire 40 years of service to the Congress."
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who chaired the trial, praised her colleagues for their handling of the case, which landed uncomfortably in their laps in July after talks with Rangel over a plea deal broke down.
"This has been a difficult assignment, time consuming, and we have approached our duties diligently," Lofgren said.
The trial subcommittee, divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans, essentially ratified all but one of the original 13 charges filed against Rangel by an investigative panel in July.
Those charges pointed to a collection of infractions related to four central elements of the case: that Rangel improperly used his congressional staff and official letterhead to raise seven-figure donations from corporate charities and chief executives for a college wing named in his honor; violated New York City rules by housing his political committees in his rent-controlled apartments in Harlem; did not pay taxes on a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic; and did not properly disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal financial assets.
This occurred while he served as the ranking Democrat or chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which has oversight of tax issues. He resigned as committee chairman in the spring when he was found guilty of a more minor infraction related to accepting corporate-financed travel.
After Tuesday's decision, most Democrats declined to address the issue or, as Rep. Anthony Weiner (N.Y.) did, described it as a "regrettable" moment. New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) emerged as one of Rangel's strongest supporters, rejecting any call for the 20-term congressman to resign. At the Capitol to lobby for his city's interests, Bloomberg called Rangel a friend and defended his storied career. "Whatever happens to Charlie, I wish him well. As a human being, he's certainly a nice guy, and he has done a lot for New York," the mayor said.
The Lofgren panel deadlocked, 4 to 4, on one count against Rangel: that he violated the gift ban by raising money for the Charles B. Rangel Center at the City College of New York. In his testimony before the committee Monday, the top ethics staff investigator acknowledged that raising donations of $1 million or more for a charity, even from corporate executives with business before Rangel's committee, was not in itself a rules violation. The problem was the official, taxpayer-funded methods the lawmaker used to raise the money, a point that Democrats highlighted during Monday's public trial.
Two other counts from the original charges were deemed so similar that the committee rolled them into one. On one other charge - that Rangel's actions brought "discredibility on the House" - the vote was 7 to 1 in favor. The subcommittee members were forbidden from naming the holdout.
This case will be very familiar to the 10-member ethics committee. All eight members of the trial subcommittee sit on the full ethics panel, and another lawmaker who worked on the investigative subcommittee also serves on the full panel. So just one of the lawmakers on the full committee will be new to the case.
Rep. Michael McCaul (Tex.), the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, said he hopes that the public exposure of the trial will "begin an era of transparency and credibility" in Congress.
Staff writer Jason Horowitz contributed to this report.