Now that a panel of Members has concluded that Rep. Charlie Rangel repeatedly violated the chamber’s rules, the House ethics committee must decide what punishment, if any, fits those transgressions.
But the ethics committee’s internal rules offer little insight on how the committee might select its penalties.
An adjudicatory subcommittee found Tuesday that the New York Democrat broke House rules, ruling against him on 11 of 13 charges leveled by an investigative panel earlier this year.
The full committee will meet Thursday to decide a punishment.
Under House rules, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct may select from a range of punishments for Members, the most significant of which are reprimand, censure and a motion for expulsion from the chamber.
“With respect to the sanctions that the Committee may recommend, reprimand is appropriate for serious violations, censure is appropriate for more serious violations, and expulsion of a Member or dismissal of an officer or employee is appropriate for the most serious violations,” the ethics committee’s rules state.
While conventional wisdom suggests Rangel is unlikely to be expelled from the chamber — the House has expelled only five Members in its history — the ethics committee could opt to recommend censure, reprimand or a lesser sanction.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the House has opted to censure Members 22 times for a variety of offenses including bribery, gift rule violations, misuse of campaign funds, payroll fraud and sexual misconduct with House pages.
Since the late 1970s, when, CRS notes, the House adopted the reprimand as a stand-alone punishment, the chamber has used the sanction against nine Members for violations including filing false financial disclosures and utilizing their offices for personal gain.
Rangel was found to have misused federal resources to solicit donations for a City College of New York center named in his honor, used a rent-stabilized apartment for his campaign office, failed to pay taxes on a villa in the Dominican Republic and filed inaccurate financial disclosure forms.
Both Democratic members of the investigative subcommittee that spent more than two years investigating Rangel indicated that before Monday’s abbreviated trial, discussions over Rangel’s punishment leaned toward the least of the three major penalties.
Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), who chaired the subcommittee, revealed in July that the panel had recommended Rangel agree to be reprimanded over the allegations.
More recently, a dissenting opinion authored by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) was released Monday by the ethics panel. He argued that the charges demand only a “letter of reproval.” Unlike the other punishments, which require a vote of the full House, the committee may issue a letter of reproval on its own.
“The record is clear that Representative Rangel engaged in irresponsible conduct over the course of several years that resulted in numerous violations of House Rules and other applicable standards. Representative Rangel’s conduct was not, however corrupt or criminal, as explicitly and implicitly alleged in the Statement of Alleged Violation, and does not warrant a sanction of reprimand,” Scott argued.
Neither Green nor Scott still serves on the ethics committee, however, so neither will take part in the sanctions hearing.
Rob Walker, an attorney with Wiley Rein who served as a top aide to the House ethics panel when the committee last held a sanction hearing in 2002, noted that the committee will turn to its previous rulings when determining whether and how to punish Rangel’s transgressions.
“They’re not facing a situation here that precisely fits a situation the committee may have come up against the past,” Walker said. “They do have to be mindful of precedent in that regard. ... What is similar? What was done in those situations?”
Both ethics committee counsel — who acted as prosecutors during Rangel’s adjudicatory hearing — and Rangel will be allowed to make written or oral arguments to the ethics committee during the sanctions hearing in support of their requests.
A Rangel spokesman did not indicate Tuesday whether the New York lawmaker will attend his sanction hearing. Rangel made a brief appearance before the adjudicatory hearing Monday, but he boycotted the proceedings after the panel rejected his requests for a postponement.
Rangel had asked for the hearing to be delayed while he sought new legal counsel.
The senior Democrat, who has spent more than $2 million on legal fees since 2008 and claimed in August he could no longer afford representation, split with his defense attorney in October.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Rangel alleged that he had been denied due process in the adjudicatory proceedings because of his lack of counsel.
“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?” Rangel said in his statement. “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 before making any decisions on sanctions.”
Rangel’s Tuesday statement echoed some of the themes touched on by Scott, which may foreshadow the argument he might make before the full committee.
“The Committee’s findings are even more difficult to understand in view of yesterday’s declaration by the Committee’s chief counsel, Blake Chisam, that there was no evidence of corruption or personal gain in his findings,” Rangel said.
During the hearing, Chisam said: “I believe the Congressman, quite frankly, was overzealous in many of the things that he did and sloppy in his personal finances,” but not corrupt.
If the ethics committee does opt to punish Rangel via reprimand, censure or expulsion, the committee must issue a privileged report to the House, including a resolution on the proposed penalty. The resolution may brought to the floor at any time after the committee files its report.
According to the CRS report on legislative discipline in the House, reprimand and censure are similar in nature, involving a resolution adopted on the floor of the House.
When a Member is reprimanded, that resolution is typically adopted by the House with no additional action. When a lawmaker faces censure, the resolution includes a “verbal admonition,” which may be administered by the Speaker reading the resolution to the Member at the bar of the House.