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House Ethics Committee recommends censure for Rangel

The bipartisan House Ethics Committee recommended Thursday that embattled New York Democrat Charles B. Rangel be censured by the full House of Representatives for ethics violations, the stiffest penalty a member can face short of expulsion.

The House will probably take up the matter after Thanksgiving. Rangel would be the first congressman censured in almost 30 years.

The Harlem representative had sought a lighter sanction. Before the vote, he asked the committee for leniency, pointing to his 40 years of service on Capitol Hill and saying “there was not even the suggestion of corruption” in the allegations against him.

Unlike the defiant posture Rangel assumed this week, the 80-year-old former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee seemed resigned, even dispirited. In tears, he said there was “no excuse for my behavior,” but maintained that he “did not try to enrich myself.”

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Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a veteran of the civil rights movement, joined Rangel in the committee room. Lewis said Rangel, known for his silver hair, gravelly voice and sartorial flourish, was “a good and decent man. I know this man. I think I know his heart.”

Rangel later released a statement apologizing to “my constituents and the American people.”

On Tuesday, an adjudicatory subcommittee found Rangel guilty of 11 of the 13 counts against him, including failure to declare rental income from a Dominican villa, improper solicitation of donations on congressional letterhead and misuse of a rent-controlled Harlem apartment as a campaign office.

Rangel did not mount a defense, saying he could no longer afford to pay his lawyers. He walked out on the proceedings Monday after the panel refused to grant his request for a delay so he could arrange for new legal counsel.

The full committee, which is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, voted 9 to 1 to censure him. The vote was not held in public.

The last such vote was in 1983, when Rep. Dan Crane (R-Ill.) and Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) were censured for inappropriate sexual behavior with congressional pages.

The ethics investigation began in July 2008 after Rangel asked the committee to determine whether he had violated House rules by soliciting contributions under a congressional letterhead for the Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York. That investigation soon expanded.

Rangel was elected to the House in 1970, defeating in the primary a longtime incumbent with ethical troubles. Despite the allegations against him this year, Rangel was easily reelected to his 21st term.

The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Jo Bonner of Alabama, said the process “should have and could have been concluded earlier” to allow voters in Rangel’s district a chance to hear the charges against him and reach their own verdict.

Rangel said voters were well aware of the allegations before election day. “God knows there was enough derogatory things said about me that I don’t think, Mr. Bonner, that you have to feel sorry for my constituents,” he said.

In a sense, Bonner seemed to be writing Rangel’s political obituary, saying he was “bigger than life” and had “once wielded one of the most powerful gavels in town.” During the ethics investigation, Rangel relinquished the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee.

But Rangel, Bonner said, showed “little regard and respect either for the institution that he has claimed to love or for the people of his district in New York that he has claimed to proudly represent for more than 40 years.”

“He can no longer blame anyone other than himself for the position he now finds himself in,” Bonner said.

Rangel was similarly mournful. “I don’t know how much longer I have to live,” he said at one juncture.

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

joliphant@latimes.com

michael.memoli@latimes.com


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