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Ethics Committee Votes to Censure Rangel

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call

Updated: 6:34 p.m.

The House ethics committee voted Thursday to recommend a censure of Rep. Charlie Rangel after an adjudicatory panel ruled earlier this week that the New York Democrat has repeatedly violated the chamber’s rules. The full House must now vote to approve the punishment.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct announced its decision following nearly three hours of secret deliberations, adhering to the punishment proposed by the committee’s counsel at a public sanctions hearing Thursday. The panel also voted to require Rangel to pay an unspecified fine.

“After much deliberation, the committee voted 9-1 to recommend that Mr. Rangel be censured by the House and be required to pay restitution for any unpaid taxes,” ethics Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said. Committee documents indicate Rangel owed as much as $17,000 in back taxes, of which he paid about $10,000 in 2008.

“We have worked hard together in this matter in a way that has actually been quite wrenching and we are satisfied to be concluded,” Lofgren added.

The ethics committee will now issue a report on its recommendation to the House, along with a resolution that must be adopted if the chamber opts to carry out the punishment. That measure would require a majority vote.

The House recessed Thursday afternoon for the Thanksgiving holiday and will not take up the recommendation until after it reconvenes Nov. 29.

According to the manual “House Practice: A Guide to the Rules, Precedents and Procedures of the House,” a censure resolution is administered by the Speaker to the Member, who stands in the well of the House as the measure is read aloud.

Should House lawmakers adopt the committee’s recommendation, Rangel would become the sixth lawmaker to be censured since the ethics panel was established in 1967. The ethics panel has recommended three other Members for censure in that period. House lawmakers also voted to censure two lawmakers despite the ethics committee’s proposal for reprimands in those cases.

The House could vote to reduce Rangel’s punishment to a reprimand, which would require only an adoption of the resolution by the House and would not require Rangel to be directly admonished on the chamber floor.

The House ethics panel has recommended reprimands against nine Members since 1967. The House has also employed its most severe penalty, expulsion from the chamber, five times in its history.

Blake Chisam, the ethics committee’s chief counsel who served as a prosecutor during Rangel’s adjudicatory hearing, suggested Thursday that the New York lawmaker’s punishment should fall “between” a reprimand and a censure.

But Chisam added that Rangel’s status at the helm of a powerful House committee compelled him to recommend the harsher penalty.

“We cannot ignore the fact that respondent was, at relevant times, either the chairman or ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee,” Chisam said.

Rangel forfeited his gavel in March after the ethics committee reprimanded him in an unrelated investigation for taking part in two Caribbean trips that violated House rules because the events received corporate funding.

Rangel made an emotional plea to the committee Thursday, requesting that the panel emphasize that the adjudicatory panel did not find him guilty of corruption.

“I just hope no matter what you decide in the sanctions, that you put in that report that Congressman Rangel never sought any personal gains,” the lawmaker said in his final remarks to the panel. “I’ve been overpaid in terms of the satisfaction I’ve gotten from everything.”

He reiterated his plea Thursday night when the committee announced its verdict.

An adjudicatory subcommittee ruled Tuesday against Rangel on 11 of 13 charges leveled by an investigative panel this year. He 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.

The ethics committee did not disclose how each of its five Democrats and five Republicans voted Thursday, but Members indicated their stances during the afternoon hearing.

“It is my hope, madam chair, that we will decide a sanction based on precedent. ... The facts of this case do not warrant censure, in my opinion,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said. “Censure is extreme. It should be reserved for intentional conduct where a Member has derived a personal financial benefit.”

But Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) questioned whether Rangel did commit corrupt acts, highlighting the senior Democrat’s fundraising for the New York college. “People donate millions of dollars to have institutions named after themselves,” McCaul said.

“I would like some clarification, and I think the American people would like some clarification as to how soliciting monies in an improper way from entities that have business before your committee ... how that’s not self-interest and how that is not in some way defined as corruption,” McCaul said.

The adjudicatory panel, on which McCaul served as ranking member, split over whether Rangel violated the House gift rule in his fundraising for the college and did not convict him on that charge. The investigative subcommittee alleged that Rangel had violated that rule because he received a “personal benefit” from the project that would “provide him with an office, and allows him to perpetuate his legacy, including the storage and archiving of his papers.”

The ethics committee is scheduled to begin an unrelated adjudicatory hearing Nov. 29 to consider allegations against Rep. Maxine Waters.

An ethics investigative subcommittee charged the California Democrat in August with violating the chamber’s rules over allegations that her chief of staff, Mikael Moore, tried to secure federal support for a bank in which Waters and her husband held hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of stock. Waters has disputed allegations of wrongdoing by her office.

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