Next for Rangel: Punishment

By John Bresnahan
|  Wednesday, Nov 17, 2010  |  Updated 7:00 AM EDT
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Next for Rangel: Punishment

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WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 15: Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) is pursued by reporters and photographers after unexpectedly leaving his House of Representatives ethics committee hearing in the Longworth House Office Building November 15, 2010 in Washington, DC. Rangel claimed that the proceeding was unfair because the subcommittee did not allow him time to hire a laywer or look over the evidence against him. The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct is holding the public hearing, where Rangel faces 13 allegations that his fund-raising and personal finances violated Congressional rules. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) is facing only scattered calls to resign following his stunning conviction by a special panel of the House ethics committee on 11 charges Tuesday. But that chorus may grow louder if his colleagues — especially Republicans — fail to see a harsh punishment imposed by the ethics committee.

The ethics committee will meet Thursday to consider punishment for Rangel, and most House insiders expect a formal reprimand or censure — with almost no chance of expulsion. Rangel will be permitted to address the ethics committee and full House regarding his punishment.

At this point, most of Rangel’s Democratic colleagues, including members of the New York delegation, believe he should stay put, despite the conviction and damage to his reputation and legacy. Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, ducked all questions about Rangel on Tuesday, clearly distracted by party battles over who was to blame for their wipeout on Election Day.

And top Republicans stayed out of the fight, saying this was a Democratic mess that the soon-to-be-minority party should clean up itself.

“Charlie Rangel [is] a friend — I supported him; his constituents want him,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters during a Capitol Hill visit. “Congress has got to do what it’s going to do. But Charlie Rangel did an awful lot for New York City, and we shouldn’t forget that.”

“It’s always sad when you have a friend and colleague like Charlie in that kind of situation,” said Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.). Serrano wouldn’t call on Rangel to step down from office, saying, “I won’t get into that; that’s his decision.”

Rangel is “an iconic figure for many African-Americans across this country, a true hero,” said Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), who has faced ethics questions of his own related to the Rod Blagojevich scandal.

“But for his leadership over the last several decades in Congress, there would be no Barack Obama as president of the United States, and there would be no Jesse Jackson Jr. in the Congress of the United States. The unfortunate episode that has culminated in the House’s determination is a blemish on his career, but we must measure Charles Rangel by his years of service and his longevity, and by his earnestness and honesty, not by the shortcomings of this episode.”

However, there was a group of members on both sides of the aisle who believe the House should impose a tough penalty, including the possibility of expulsion, if Rangel doesn’t resign.

“I can say that if the charges prove out ... I would probably vote for a very serious sanction, if not removal,” said Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.).

Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), who led the GOP charge during the 111th Congress to force Rangel out as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, said he believed that Rangel should resign or face expulsion, although Carter acknowledged there was little chance that would happen. “I don’t think it will happen, but I think it’s worthy of removal,” Carter said.

Carter, who faced his own ethics problems after he failed to disclose several hundred thousand dollars in stock profits on annual disclosure forms, said he has talked to some of his GOP colleagues about how they should respond if they don’t feel the ethics committee imposes a tough penalty. Carter said no decision has been made on whether to try to force an expulsion vote.

“I think that he should resign. He has received every procedural accommodation,” added Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.). “And the [ethics] committee has unambiguously decided against him.”

 

Rangel himself remained defiant, saying he felt that his rights were violated because a special ethics panel convicted him despite the fact that he had no attorney and asked for more time to prepare for an ethics trial.

“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 in a statement. “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.

“I am disappointed by the unfortunate findings of the ethics subcommittee,” Rangel continued. “The committee’s actions are unprecedented in view of the fact that they [were] arrived at without rebuttal or counterevidence on my behalf.”

An eight-member panel of the House ethics committee, after deliberating for roughly six hours, found that there was “clear and convincing evidence” that Rangel had violated House ethics on 11 of the 13 charges he faced heading into a rare public ethics trial.

The panel deadlocked on one charge and then folded another charge into a different count.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the full ethics committee, oversaw the trial. She indicated that the votes were unanimous, meaning all four Democrats on the bipartisan panel ruled against Rangel.

Rangel is expected to request a personal appearance before the full ethics committee when it meets to decide what sanctions to impose, said Democratic insiders. The list of punishments Rangel faces range from a “letter of reproval” to expulsion, with a formal reprimand or censure considered the most likely options.

Lofgren said she would talk to her GOP counterpart, Rep. Jo Bonner of Alabama, to decide when a sanctions hearing will take place, although it is likely to occur Thursday.

Rangel, 80, walked out of his ethics trial Monday, complaining that he had not been given enough time to find new legal counsel after parting ways with his previous law firm last month. The full ethics committee will now consider punishment for Rangel and possibly refer the case to the House floor with a recommendation for a sanction against the lawmaker.

Rangel was facing a 13-count “Statement of Alleged Violation” that included allegations that he improperly solicited millions of dollars from corporate officials and lobbyists for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at The City College of New York, failed to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars of income and assets on financial disclosure forms, maintained a rent-stabilized unit in a Harlem luxury apartment building for his campaign committee, and failed to pay income taxes on a villa in the Dominican Republic.

Rangel spent more than $2 million on lawyers to represent him during the long ethics probe but then cut his ties to his leading law firm, Zuckerman Spaeder, just weeks ago in a dispute over money and strategy.

That left Rangel without counsel heading into Monday’s trial. He pleaded with Lofgren and other members of the special panel for more time to get a new lawyer, but his colleagues ruled against him.

Rangel then dramatically walked out of the proceedings, claiming his due process rights had been violated.

Next up for the ethics committee is a Nov. 29 trial for Rep. Maxine Waters of California, who has been charged with three counts of providing improper assistance during the 2008 financial crisis to a bank where her husband owned $350,000 in stock.

Waters has denied any wrongdoing and, like Rangel, sought an open trial before the ethics committee.

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