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Ethics Committee Votes to Censure Charles Rangel

By Jeff Mays | November 18, 2010 12:31pm | Updated on November 19, 2010 6:34am
U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) reacts during a House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct hearing November 18, 2010 in Washington, DC.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) reacts during a House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct hearing November 18, 2010 in Washington, DC.
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Mark Wilson/Getty Images

By Jeff Mays

DNAInfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — The House Ethics Committee voted 9-1 to censure Rep. Charles Rangel late on Thursday, and recommended that he pay restitution of unpaid taxes. The House will now consider the punishment.

While the Committee was behind closed doors voting on disciplinary action during the afternoon, a chastened Rangel made a public apology via email.

"Today I stood before the Ethics Committee to apologize for the embarrassment I have brought upon this body that I love dearly, and to the Members of Congress, and to my family and constituents," the email release said.

"There has never been any corruption or personal gain in my actions as the Committee's chief counsel noted," Rangel's release said. "My actions may have been sloppy, or even stupid, but never corrupt."

Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) waits for an elevator in the Rayburn House Office building November 18, 2010 in Washington, DC.
Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) waits for an elevator in the Rayburn House Office building November 18, 2010 in Washington, DC.
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Mark Wilson/Getty Images

"There is no excuse for my acts of omission and failures to abide by the rules of Congress. I have made many mistakes that I will forever regret, and I apologize for them."

The recommendation to censure Rangel, if accepted by the House, means he must apologize on the floor of the House and take responsibility for his actions.

Rep. Charlie Rangel broke down, to the point of tears, when given an opportunity to speak to his constituents before the House Ethics Committee decided his fate, after he was found guilty of 11 ethics violations.

"I hope that regardless of what you decide you put in that report that Charlie Rangel never sought personal gain," Rangel, 80,  said as he pleaded for the committee to protect his good name and reputation.

"There was no intent for me ever to go beyond what was given to me as a salary. I never attempted to enrich myself. I walk away grateful that I have had this opportunity to serve," he said.

Rangel sat for a few moments, holding back tears and then placed his hand over his face before making his final statement. He called the moment awkward numerous times and apologized to his colleagues.

"I apologize for any embarrassment I have caused you individually or collectively as a member of the greatest body in the world," Rangel said.

Earlier Thursday, the House ethics lawyer had recommended that Rep. Charles Rangel be censured.

"Public office is a public trust. Respondent violated that trust," Chief House Ethics lawyer Blake Chisam said while speaking before the House Ethics Committee in Washington, D.C. Thursday.

After returning from a break, multiple Democratic members of the House defended Rangel and his years of service.

Rep. Ben Chandler, a Democrat, said Rangel deserved justice.

"I think that the people of this country have an abiding sense of fairness and justice and while they want to see their institutions protected, they want to see justice done," he said.

Chandler also asked Chisam if the committee would be setting a precedent by censuring Rangel for his actions in this case, even though most agreed there was no corruption or intent of corruption.

Chisam said this case was unique in the history of the Congress.

"There really is not a case in the committee's past that you can line up with this case," he said.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield said he was concerned about Rangel's lack of counsel.

"If Mr Rangel had counsel there are arguments that could have been made ... those arguments would have had a bearing on the sanctions we would impose in this case," Butterfield said.

"It is my hope that we will decide the sanction based on precedent, not politics or expediency ... The facts in this case do not warrant a censure," Butterfield added.

Earlier, a slightly more combative Rangel, speaking in his own defense, with Rep. John Lewis seated beside him, admitted to mistakes but emphasized that there was no corruption or even the intent of corruption in any of his actions.

"In all of this there was no request or suggestion that I would receive any personal gain," Rangel said.

"Never, but never, was there an intent to hide anything from constituents or the IRS," Rangel later added.

Rangel spoke for several minutes before he turned it over to Lewis to speak of his character.

"Charlie Rangel is a good and decent man. I know this man, I think I know his heart," Lewis said.

Now Rangel will likely have to stand before the House while the speaker formally reprimands him.

Ranking committee member Rep. Jo Bonner called the decision a "difficult and unpleasant task," but said the committee had the "moral obligation to act with fairness led only by the facts and the laws."

Bonner also chided Rangel for walking out of the hearing earlier this week and said that his use of four rent controlled apartments was a disgrace given the need for housing in his Harlem district.

Rep. Michael McCaul questioned whether the charges rose to the level of corruption. He characterized Rangel's efforts on behalf of a public service center to be named after him as a "monument to me."

"People donate millions of dollars to have institutions named after themselves," McCaul said.

"is that not corruption? it depends how you define corruption," he added.

Rangel also continued to insist that he had not been treated fairly during the proceedings. He referenced the schedule of the trial on the eve of his September primary and November election and said he would have liked the chance to have a lawyer and to call witnesses.

Rangel also said one of the reasons he could not come to a settlement before the case moved to the trial phase was because there seemed to be resistance to acknowledging that what he was guilty of did not rise to the level of corruption.

He added that both the president of City College and the owners of the Lenox Terrace apartment complex where he held multiple rent-controlled apartments, including one used as a campaign office, had approached him.

"I wanted the people to know before the election exactly what I have done," Rangel said.

Rangel was found guilty Tuesday of 11 counts of ethics violations after he walked out of the hearing. Before leaving, the 21-term congressman said he deserved the right to counsel and needed time to raise the $1 million he said it would cost to pay a lawyer to represent him during the hearing.

The committee, after deliberating, rejected Rangel's request and found that all of the charges were factual.

Rangel was originally charged with 13 ethics violations, including improper fundraising for soliciting donations for a public service center to be named in his honor at City College from organizations with business before the Ways and Means Committee, which he chaired. Others charges included the failure to properly report personal income and the improper use of rent-controlled apartments in Harlem.