WASHINGTON – New York Rep. Charles Rangel, a longtime power in the U.S. House, violated its rules with financial misconduct, brought it discredit and will be punished, fellow lawmakers sitting as jurors ruled on Nov. 16.
Protesting the enduring stain on his four-decade congressional career, the
80-year-old Democrat said he was treated unfairly for “good faith mistakes.” His statement reflected the bitterness of an eight-month struggle, starting with an unrelated ethics ruling that forced him from his coveted chairmanship of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Rangel, a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, remains a political kingpin in New York’s famed Harlem neighborhood and is unlikely to resign. He won re-election earlier this month.
Convicted on 11 of 13 charges of rules violations, his ordeal isn’t finished. The eight-member ethics panel that convicted him — four Democrats and four Republicans — now will write a report to amplify its findings. Then, the full House ethics committee will conduct a hearing on the appropriate punishment for Rangel, the silver-haired, gravelly voiced veteran of 20 terms in Congress.
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Black Caucus said, “Congressman Rangel was not found guilty of corruption or enriching himself. He was found guilty of poor record keeping, and improperly using his office stationery. Long ago he admitted these lapses and has worked to correct them.
“It is important to remember that Congressman Rangel was the person that initiated the ethics process, by asking the committee to look into allegations against him. He also hired a forensic accountant to clear up his tax matters and he’s already settled with the IRS.
“It is still too premature to speculate on how this will be finally resolved, but I do know that when Congressman Rangel was charged with breaking House rules, he worked to correct the violations.”
Possible sanctions include a House vote deploring his conduct, a fine and denial of certain privileges.
Rangel’s problems started, in part, with the way he solicited money for a New York college center designed as a monument to himself. There were also his incorrect annual disclosures of his income and assets and his use of a subsidized New York apartment — designated for residential use — as a campaign office.
At his one-day trial, Rangel was reduced to pleading for a postponement — arguing that his lawyers abandoned him after he paid them some $2 million but could afford no more. The panel rejected his request, and Rangel walked out of the proceeding.
Rangel called the panel’s findings “unprecedented” because there was no rebuttal evidence. He said the rejection of his appeal for more time violated “the basic constitutional right to 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. “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.”
The panel deliberated over two days before its chairman, Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren, made a bare-bones statement announcing the findings — leaving a full explanation for the upcoming written report.
The eight-member jury panel was unanimous on most charges against Rangel. Members split 4-4 on a charge that he violated a ban on gifts because he was to have an office — and storage of his papers — at the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York. Two counts charging him with misuse of Congress’ free mail privilege were merged into one. And the panel voted 7-1 on a final charge that he had brought discredit on the House.
New York Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo said, “It’s obviously a sad situation to experience.”
“It’s important that people have full faith in the integrity in public service, so it’s painful to watch,” Cuomo said Nov. 16 at a press event near Rochester. “But we’ll see what happens at the end of the process.”
“Congressman Rangel has a distinguished, demonstrated 50-year history of service to his constituents who again returned him to office in November,” said Lee. “When his record and actions are compared with other members, reason would seem to indicate that any decision on punishment should be in line with previous findings of the ethics committee.”
Associated Press writer Larry Margasak and AFRO Staff contributed to this article.