The House yesterday voted 414 to 0 to censure Rep. Charles C. Diggs Jr. (D-Mich.), who was convicted of taking salary kickbacks from his staff.
The action marked the second time this century that a member of the House has been censured. The last censure was of Rep. Thomas Blanton (D-Tex.) in 1921 for inserting "obscene words" in the Congressional Record.
Although Censure is the most severe punishment, short of expulsion, the House can mete out, it was administered quickly and gently to Diggs.
Censure requires that the member being reproved stand in the well of the House while the resolution of censure is read publicly.
Diggs stood quietly while House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) read the censure resolution in an almost mournful tone.
The resolution read: "Resolved, that Rep. Charles C. Diggs Jr. be censured; that Rep. Charles C. Diggs Jr. forthwith present himself in the well of the House for pronouncement of censure; that Rep. Charles C. Diggs Jr. be censured with the public reading of this resolution by the speaker; that Rep. Charles C. Diggs Jr. is ordered to execute and deliver to the House an interest-bearing demand promissory note for $40,031.66, made payable to the Treasury of the United States; that Rep Charles C. Diggs Jr. is ordered, for the remainder of the 96th Congress, to require his employes to certify to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct that the funds he or she receives from clerk-hire funds are received in full compliance with current House rules; and that the House of Representatives adopt the report of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct dated July 19, 1979, in the matter of Rep. Charles C. Diggs Jr."
After the reading of the resolution, members crowded around Diggs, patting him on the back.
Debate on the resolution lasted 35 minutes. In addition to House ethics committee Chairman Charles E. Bennett (D-Fla.), who explained the history of the Diggs investigation and how the committee reached its conclusion, Rep. Louis Stokes (D/Ohio), was the only other Democrat to speak. Stokes, a fellow Black Caucus member with Diggs, merely praised the quality of the debate and the work of the committee.
Only six Republicans spoke, four of them freshmen. All called the punishment of censure, as called the punishment of censure, as opposed to expulsion, "reasonable" or "just and fair." Rep. Harold Hollenbeck (R-N.J.) said, "The offenses he was charged with did not warrant expulsion. That punishment has never been imposed for an action short of treason."
Only three members who joined the Confederacy during the Civil War have ever been expelled.
Two freshman Republicans had called for Diggs' expulsion Monday, but the motion was quickly tabled, 205 to 197. Rep. Floyd D. Spence (R-S.C.) said, "yesterday's vote told us there was not even a majority for expulsion, much less the two-thirds" required to expel a member.
Only Rep. Dick B. Cheney (R-Wyo.) spoke disparagingly of Diggs' conduct. Cheney said Diggs "dishonored himself and dishonored the House. I do not believe a man convicted by a jury of his peers should continue serving in the House." Cheney said a "sense of decency and respect . . . dictated resignation. I believe he should have resigned long ago and should do so now."
Diggs sat in a front row seat throughout the debate, speaking only to defer to Stokes.
Diggs was convicted last year on 29 counts of taking salary kickbacks of more than $60,000 from his staff to pay personal and official expenses. He has been reelected since his conviction, and is appealing his sentence of three years in prison.
Attempts early in the year by freshman Republicans to expel Diggs were referred to the ethics committee for investigation. On June 29, the ethics committee announced suddenly that Diggs had offered a settlement, agreeing to accept censure and make resitution of some $40,000 and apologize to the House for the discredit he brought on it.
Diggs becomes the 19th member of the House ever to be censured. Censure was recommended last year for one member of the House involved in Korean influence-buying scandals, but Rep. Edward Roybal's (D-Calif.) punishment was reduced to a reprimand by the House.
In 1967, a special House committee recommended that the House censure then-congressman Adam Clayton Powell (D-N.Y.) for alleged misuse of public funds.
The House voted instead to exclude Powell from voting or serving on committees, but the Supreme Court ruled subsequently that this was unconstitutional. The House then stripped Powell of his seniority and fined him $25,000. CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, House Speaker O'Neill, right, reads the censure document as Rep. Diggs stands in the well of the chamber. AP