A House Ethics Committee has found Congressman Charles Rangel guilty of 11 of 13 ethics violations, saying there was "clear and convincing" evidence he violated House rules.
The full ethics committee will next conduct a hearing on the appropriate punishment for the former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. The committee will then make a recommendation to the House.
Possible punishments include a House vote deploring Rangel's conduct, a fine and denial of privileges. Rangel, who left the hearing Monday after opening statements because he did not have legal counsel, will not lose his seat.
The panel deliberated for six hours before reading its decision. Speaking after the verdicts were announced, The ethics committee chairman, Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. said "none of the members of the committee are volunteers. This has been a difficult assignment." She added that the panel had "tried to act with fairness....and I do believe we have accomplished that mission."
Rangel, 80, and a 20-term Democrat representing Harlem, implored a House ethics committee panel to delay yesterday, declaring in an emotional address that "50 years of public service is on the line."
"My family has caught hell," Rangel said in asking for more time to secure legal counsel before the hearing. Earlier this fall, he had pleaded for a quick decision before the November elections. He won re-election.
But a panel of four Democrats and four Republicans found him guilty on 11 of 13 counts of alleged financial and fundraising misconduct.
The congressional panel, sitting as a jury, found that Rangel had used House stationery and staff to solicit money for a New York college center named after him. It also concluded he solicited donors for the center with interests before the Ways and Means Committee, leaving the impression the money could influence official actions.
He also was found guilty of failing to disclose at least $600,000 in assets and income in a series of inaccurate reports to Congress; using a rent-subsidized New York apartment for a campaign office, when it was designated for residential use; and failure to report to the IRS rental income from a housing unit in a Dominican Republic resort.
Rangel, in asking for a delay, told the panel he had run out of money after paying his previous attorneys some $2 million and needed time to set up a legal defense fund to raise an additional $1 million.
Rangel reacted bitterly to the conviction.
"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 written 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.''
He called the panel's findings "unprecedented'' because there was no rebuttal evidence. He complained that the rejection of his appeal for more time violated "the basic constitutional right to counsel.''
Rangel, echoing a statement he made in August in a speech to the House, added, "any failings in my conduct were the result of "good faith mistakes'' and were caused by "sloppy and careless recordkeeping, but were not criminal or corrupt.''
Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who attended Rangel's fundraiser in August while campaigning to clean up New York politics, said, "It's obviously a sad situation to experience.
"It's important that people have full faith in the integrity in public service, so it's painful to watch,'' Cuomo said Tuesday at a press event near Rochester. "But we'll see what happens at the end of the process.''
Mayor Mike Bloomberg commented after the decision: "He's a friend, I'm a supporter. His constituents wanted him. Congress has to do what they have to do. He's done a lot for New York City and our country."
Bloomberg spoke to reporters in Washington, where he urged the Senate to pass a bill to provide treatment for rescue workers who became ill from breathing dust and fumes at Ground Zero.
Until last spring, Rangel had wielded great influence as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, a gravelly voiced, outgoing figure who raised millions for fellow lawmakers' campaigns. He relinquished that chairmanship in March after being admonished by the ethics committee for taking two corporate-paid trips to the Caribbean in violation of House rules. There was no further punishment for that, but the current charges are another matter.
After Rangel left Monday's hearing, House ethics committee chief counsel Blake Chisam pushed for a decision on the allegations that he had violated House rules. Chisam, assuming the role of prosecutor, played a video of Rangel's speech on the House floor in August in which the congressman acknowledged that he'd used House stationery to raise money for a college center named after him, and that he'd been tardy in filing taxes and financial disclosure statements.
He said then that he never intended to break any rules.
Chisam told the panel that there were no questions "as to any material facts in this case. As a result the case is ripe for a decision."
The chief counsel also said, "I see no evidence of corruption" by Rangel. Rather, he suggested, the congressman was "overzealous" and "sloppy in his personal finances."
The charges allege violations of:
—A House gift ban and restrictions on solicitations. Rangel is accused of using congressional staff, letterhead and workspace to seek donations for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York. The requests usually went to charitable arms of businesses with issues before Congress, including Rangel's Ways and Means Committee.
—A U.S. government code of ethics. Several allegations fall under this code, among them: accepting favors (the Rangel Center donations) that could be construed as influencing Rangel's congressional duties; acceptance of a rent-subsidized New York apartment used as a campaign office, when the lease said it was for residential use only, and failure to report taxable income.
—The Ethics in Government Act and a companion House rule requiring "full and complete" public reports of a congressman's income, assets and liabilities each year. Rangel is charged with a pattern of submitting incomplete and inaccurate disclosure statements. He filed amended reports covering 1998 to 2007 only after the investigative ethics panel began looking into his disclosures. He belatedly reported at least $600,000 in assets.