Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) faced censure Dec. 3 after the House voted 333-79 in support of the recommendations of the House ethics committee, despite pleas for leniency from him and his supporters.
The punishment stems from the House ethics committee’s conclusion that Rangel engaged in a lengthy pattern of fundraising and financial violations.
“I brought it all on myself,” Rangel said. “But, in my heart I truly feel good. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I know in my heart that I am not going to be judged by this Congress, but I am going to be judged by my life.”
Censure, a rare form of parliamentary punishment, falls short of expulsion from Congress. The last members to be censured were two congressmen who in 1983 were found guilty of engaging in sexual relationships with teenage congressional pages.
The punishment of Rangel, whose misdeeds allegedly spanned two decades, marked the 23rd time in the nation’s history that a House member had been censured. Rangel was required to walk humbly to the front of the House floor, known as the well, and stand as the Speaker of the House condemned his behavior in front of his fellow lawmakers.
But the founder of the Congressional Black Caucus and the dean of the New York congressional delegation maintained throughout the two years of investigations, hearings and the eventual public chastisement that he never meant to violate House rules.
In an apology issued last month to his colleagues, family and constituency, Rangel said his actions may have been sloppy, “or even stupid,” but never corrupt.
“There is no excuse for my acts of omission and failures to abide by the rules of Congress,” he said. “I have made many mistakes that I will forever regret.”
The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct conceded that that the 80-year-old Harlem Democrat–who breezed to victory in November into his 21st term last month with more than 80 percent of the vote in his upper Manhattan district–had not indulged in any personal corruption schemes.
However, it listed 11 different rules for which he was found in violation, including failure to pay taxes on part of his income for 17 years, failure to report assets properly for a decade, and misuse of a rent-stabilized apartment as a campaign office.
The House also resolved to have Rangel “pay restitution to the appropriate tax authorities or U. S. Treasury for any unpaid estimated taxes or income” derived from a vacation home the congressman owns in the Dominican Republic.
In a campaign to lessen Rangel’s penalty, the lawmaker and his supporters circulated a list of reasons why he should not have been censured. Among them: that the 40-year congressional veteran had not lied under oath, accepted bribes, did not engage in illegal sexual conduct and had been open and transparent with the committee.
Even the committee’s lead lawyer noted that while Rangel had been sloppy in his personal finances, he wasn’t corrupt.
“I see no evidence of corruption,” Blake Chiasm said in November of Rangel. “It’s hard to answer the question of personal financial benefit I think the short answer is probably no.”
Over the course of the two-year investigation, Rangel was stripped of the chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, where tax law is written, and has paid more than $2 million in legal fees.
CDC Chairman Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said in a statement released shortly after announcement of Rangel’s fate that the House’s vote to censure Rangel was “an overly harsh sanction.” She added that despite the lengthy probe the committee still had no evidence of corruption or personal financial gain. Lee said a reprimand would have been more in order.
“The censure sanction is a departure from the customary sanctions in other cases that have been adjudicated over the years,” Lee said. “According to the Committee’s counsel, Congressman Rangel’s misconduct resulted from overzealousness and sloppiness, not corruption.”
Lee said however, that the censure had in no way diminished Rangel’s distinguished history of service to his country and constituents.
“Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are proud to call Congressman Rangel our colleague and friend,” she said.