WASHINGTON – A congressional panel Tuesday found Rep. Charles Rangel guilty of violating 11 House ethics rules, but the iconic New York Democrat is likely to escape the most serious punishment for his actions – expulsion from the House.
Instead, it’s expected that the once-powerful chairman of the Ways and Means Committee will be reprimanded or censured by his colleagues for ethics transgressions that include his failure to declare rental income from a Dominican villa, improper solicitation of donations on congressional letterhead and misuse of a rent-controlled apartment as a campaign office.
The finding seemed likely after Rangel, 80, walked out on the proceedings Monday, saying he hadn’t been given a chance to retain new lawyers. That allowed the ethics panel to presume that he was no longer contesting the facts underlying the allegations against him.
The panel, divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans, deliberated into Tuesday morning before announcing its decision.
“We have tried to act with fairness, led only by the facts and the law,” said the ethics subcommittee’s chairwoman, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. “And I believe we have accomplished that mission.”
The eight-member panel reached a unanimous conclusion on 10 of the 13 counts.
In a statement, Rangel, a 20-term lawmaker from Harlem who recently played a key role in enacting the health care overhaul, ripped the decision.
“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 full 10-member House ethics committee will recommend a punishment for Rangel. Its decision may be based on testimony Monday of the committee’s top lawyer, R. Blake Chisam, who said that there had been no “evidence of corruption,” but that Rangel had been “sloppy.” A censure or reprimand would require a vote of the full House during its lame-duck session.
Rangel’s ethical troubles haven’t harmed his standing at home. He was re-elected to a 21st term in November with 80 percent of the vote, and he had long been expected to reach some accommodation with ethics investigators, who dogged him for more than two years and forced him to relinquish his chairmanship of Ways and Means, before Monday’s proceedings.
Rangel said Monday he had parted ways with his high-powered private legal team after spending nearly $2 million on his defense.
Whether Rangel will now seek to return as the top Democrat on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee next year in the new Republican-controlled House remains uncertain.