Two days after Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) was found guilty of 11 ethics violations by a House ethics subcommittee, the full ethics committee voted nine to one to recommend that the House of Representatives censure Rangel for his "lack of attention and carelessness" and for bringing "discredit to the House and serving to undermine public trust" of the institution. They also recommended Rangel pay restitution for unpaid taxes related to a home in the Dominican Republic.
In an extraordinary move before the sentence came down, Rangel released a statement apologizing for his conduct. "This has been one of the most difficult days of my life. All of this has been brought upon me as a result of my own actions. In the end, I hope that you would judge me on my entire record as a soldier and a dedicated public servant -- not by my mistakes," he wrote. "To my beloved Colleagues, my constituents and the American people, I am sorry."
Now that the full ethics committee has agreed to a sentence, that recommendation will be sent to the full House, which will vote on Rangel's fate. A censure is administered by a formal vote of the two-thirds of the members of the House disapproving of the conduct of a member. After the vote, the member is usually asked to stand in the well of the House while the speaker of the House reads the censure against him.
Although the committee attorney, Blake Chisam, said he felt Rangel's conduct deserved a punishment somewhere between a reprimand and the harsher censure, Chisam said the fact that Rangel served as the chairman or ranking member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee when most of the violations occurred merited the harsher sentence.
On Tuesday, the adjudicatory subcommittee convicted Rangel on 11 counts of violating House rules. The infractions involved reporting rental income from his villa in the Dominican Republic, using a rent-controlled apartment in New York for campaign activities, and using congressional stationery to raise funds for a center to be built at New York's City University in his name.
A forlorn Rangel arrived for the committee's hearing Thursday, flanked by his friend Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), to make his case for leniency before the 10 committee members. On Tuesday, the congressman walked out of the panel's trial in protest of its decision not to delay the proceedings after he requested more time to find and fund a new legal team. His original defense team separated from Rangel in September. He said he had paid nearly $2 million in legal fees.
An ominous sign for Rangel came early in the sentencing hearing, when Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the ethics committee, delivered a blistering opening statement against the 20-term congressman, saying it pained him to speak out against a colleague he has long admired.
"Sadly, it is my unwavering view that the actions, decision and behavior of our colleague from New York can no longer reflect either honor or integrity," Bonner said. "Mr. Rangel can no longer blame anyone other than himself for the position he now finds himself in. Mr. Rangel should only look into the mirror if he wants to know who to blame."
Later, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) asked Rangel why his failure to pay taxes for 17 years on his Dominican rental property should not be punished harshly by the committee. "What is that?" McCaul said. "How is that different from Mr. [James] Traficant, who failed to pay taxes for two years and was expelled from this body?"
But Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) strenuously defended Rangel and called censure too extreme for Rangel's actions. "It should be reserved for intentional conduct where the member has derived a personal financial benefit. That is not this case," Butterfield said. "The law in this case establishes no corruption and as judges we should be bound by this fact."
With Lewis by his side, Rangel sat emotionless at the witness table as committee members spoke and as the staff attorney read the lengthy findings against the him. Rangel then rose to defend himself and to take specific issue with Bonner's words.
"I hope that Mr. Bonner was not suggesting my lack of love for this country or this institution," Rangel said. "I look at myself every morning, Mr. Bonner, and I have never blamed my staff, my family or anyone as it related to my violations of House rules."
He also apologized to the committee members for any embarrassment he might have caused them and, holding back tears, appealed for their help in preserving his reputation.
"I recognize that you cannot deal with issues that are not before this committee," he said. "But what the press has done to me, my community and my family is just totally unfair. Counsel knows it, all of you know it. It's not your responsibility to correct that but they will continue to call me a crook and charge me with being a crook."
Although Rangel admitted he was guilty of "faulty behavior" and "wrongdoing," he said his intent was never to enrich himself or deliberately break House rules.
After Rangel spoke Thursday, Lewis rose to defend him as well. "I've known Mr. Rangel for more than 50 years. He is a committed and dedicated, hardworking, patriotic American," Lewis said, explaining that Rangel had traveled to Selma, Ala. in the 1960s to march with him and Martin Luther King, Jr. "Charlie Rangel is a good and decent man. I know this man. I think I know his heart."
Bonner spoke once more to say that as a native of Selma, he thanked Rangel for going there "to do what you did."
The full House can now accept or change the sentence for Rangel. Punishment options include expulsion from the House, but that is considered highly unlikely in this case. The last member of the House to be expelled was Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio), who later went to federal prison for bribery.
Rangel's predecessor in the House, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., also found himself embroiled in an ethics scandal at the end of his career. After a Judiciary Committee investigation into his conduct, the House formally excluded Powell from the 90th Congress for several infractions, including misuse of public funds. After being expelled, Powell ran in a special election to succeed himself and won, but lost his next election in 1970 -- to Rangel, then a promising 40 year-old former New York prosecutor.
Additional reporting by Kevin Brennan for Politics Daily.