House panel finds Rep. Rangel guilty, but he is unlikely to be expelled

A congressional panel Tuesday found Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York guilty of violating 11 House ethics rules, but the Harlem 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 had not been given a chance to retain new lawyers. That action allowed the ethics panel to presume that he was no longer contesting the facts underlying the allegations against him.

The committee, 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-San Jose). “And I believe we have accomplished that mission.”

The eight-member panel reached a unanimous conclusion on 10 of the 13 counts. The committee voted 7 to 1 on an 11th count.

In a statement, Rangel, the 20-term Democratic stalwart who recently played a key role in enacting the healthcare overhaul, criticized 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, 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 reelected to a 21st term this month with 80% 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 the Ways and Means Committee before Monday’s proceedings.

Rangel said Monday that he had parted ways with his high-powered private legal team after spending nearly $2 million on his defense.

Another prominent Democrat, Rep. Maxine Waters of Los Angeles, will face a similar ethics proceeding this month. Waters, a 10-term congresswoman, is accused of helping a bank in which her husband held a financial stake.