I was gratified when I heard the ethics committee’s own counsel agree with me and say he found no evidence of corruption or personal gain in my investigation. I am surprised, however, that the language the adjudicatory subcommittee used in rendering its decision does not coincide with what the counsel stated orally. I had looked forward to a hearing because I knew in my heart that I did nothing corrupt nor sell my office or votes.
To make these points as clear as possible, I viewed the hearing as an opportunity to tell my side of the story and that is why I needed an attorney to defend me. I was and am disappointed that the committee reached its decision without affording me the right to adequately defend myself with the aid of counsel.
I truly believe public officials have a higher responsibility than most Americans to obey the rules because we write them. There can be no excuse for my acts of omission. I’ve failed in carrying out my responsibilities. I made numerous mistakes.
But corruption and personal enrichment are certainly not part of my mistakes, and the committee’s chief counsel made that abundantly clear. And that was the point I was always trying to make.
Not too long ago, I wrote a book titled “And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since.” This was my attempt to remind myself that there will never be another day in my life like Nov. 30, 1950. I was an infantryman, 20 years old, fighting for my country in North Korea, surrounded by tens of thousands of Communist Chinese, wounded, left for dead and making a plea to God to spare my life.
My prayers were heard and my life spared. I left the military a decorated hero, but I was still a high school dropout. Thanks to the GI bill, I was given an opportunity to walk a road that took me back to school and eventually to the chairmanship of what is considered the most distinguished committee in Congress — the Ways and Means Committee.
After completing law school, I served under the distinguished Robert Morgenthau as an assistant U.S. district attorney for the Southern District of New York, in the New York State Assembly, and in 1970 I was elected to the House of Representatives.
Since then, I’ve had endless opportunities and accomplishments. I walked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement and sought justice for the poor and voiceless as a leading advocate for economic development, jobs and housing. I passed historic legislation to end apartheid in South Africa and to assist developing nations elsewhere in Africa and the Caribbean.
And then the sky fell down. The nightmare began. Beginning soon after I took the gavel at Ways and Means, I have been smeared with allegations of corruption and personal gain. Two years ago, I referred these media allegations to the ethics committee, confident that I would be protected from these attacks and false accusations.
The committee has not met its burden of proof in presenting clear and convincing evidence that Charlie Rangel has deviated from his sense of duty to this body and this great country. I will continue to do all that I can do to provide the very same rights and opportunities that motivated Pvt. Rangel to overcome poverty and succeed in life.
How can 40 witnesses, 30,000 pages of transcripts, over 550 exhibits measure against my 40 years of service and commitment to this body I love so much?
I ask the committee in reviewing the sanctions to take that into serious consideration, as well as the effects this ordeal has had on my wife, family and constituents.
Even in light of the fact that the subcommittee’s findings were made without my representation and weighed against what was not found, I hope my four decades of service merit a sanction that is in keeping with and no greater than House precedents and also contains a drop of fairness and mercy.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.