Three days after making a scene and storming out of his own trial on violating House ethics rules, Rep. Charlie Rangel returned to the full House Ethics Committee after being found guilty on 11 counts of violating ethics rules and begged for mercy while stridently defending his own personal character. After nearly three hours of hearings and even more time in a closed door session the committee voted 9-1 to censure of the 20-term congressman. The censure motion will be voted on by the full House.
Before the committee adjourned to determine a punishment, Rangel, in stark relief to his bellicose actions on Monday, rose before the committee after pausing to wipe away tears and stated in a contrite and exhausted voice unfamiliar to the outspoken congressman, “I walk away, no matter the decision, grateful at my opportunity to serve and recognize that if it weren’t for God’s gift in saving my life I wouldn’t be here. I apologize for any embarrassment I’ve caused you personally or as a member of the greatest institution in the world.”
Rangel’s contrition came after two years of investigations where the congressman insisted upon his innocence and denounced the committee’s investigation, at times to ludicrous degrees. In the past week Rangel has claimed that the committee denied his right to counsel despite retaining counsel up to the date that the trial was announced.
During the hearing earlier today, committee counsel Blake Chisam recommended a censure against Rangel after explaining the historical record for similar violations.
The committee, which held its first hearing in 1978, has recommended sanctions sixteen times in its history. Four times it has recommended expulsion and only twice has the full House actually voted to expel. On a total of three occasions the full House has rejected the penalty recommended by the committee.
A number of these recommended sanctions included similar violations as the ones that Rangel has been found guilty. Former Rep. Bob Sikes was found guilty of violating financial disclosure rules and received a reprimand; former Rep. Jim Traficant was found guilty, among far more serious charges, of misuse of public resources and was expelled; former Speaker Newt Gingrich was found guilty of violating tax laws and was reprimanded and fined $300,000.
Rep. Michael McCaul pointed some barbs towards the counsel Chisam during the question and answer session. McCaul was concerned that Chisam had dismissed the notion that Rangel’s activity was corrupt. He stated that many out there would consider a sitting chair of the Ways & Means Committee soliciting money from companies with business before the committee for an eponymous educational center. Chisam responded by stating that his statement was his opinion alone and was based on the record of evidence before the committee.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield was the most ardent supporter of Rangel on the committee stating his opposition to a censure. Butterfield stated that, “Censure is extreme,” and that while Rangel was sloppy, his errors were not intentional. It is likely that Butterfield cast the lone vote against censure.
Butterfield also noted that members of Congress routinely solicit donations from corporations for charities in their name or on their behalf and the only difference is that Rangel used official resources.
Rep. Peter Welch continued this line of thought, but took it further, explaining that this isn’t the last we’ve heard of abuses of power. Welch explained that so long as congressmen receive contributions from organizations that have an interest before them in Congress we are bound to find individuals who violate the public’s trust.
The censure comes after a long and storied career in Congress for Rangel. This record was driven home by the appearance of Rep. John Lewis alongside Rangel.
Lewis, a Civil Rights Era hero and perhaps one of the most revered members of Congress, addressed the committee by stating that he did not know the facts of the case, “but I’ve known Charlie Rangel for over 50 years.” The Georgia congressman ran down the list of Rangel’s accomplishments: Korean War hero, law degree thanks to the G.I. Bill, marched from Selma to Montgomery and a “hard-working public servant.” Lewis concluded by stating, “Charlie Rangel is a good and decent man. I know this man, I think I know his heart.”
By the end of the hearing Rangel was left sitting in his chair, legs crossed, hands clasped before his face. His eyes stared off into the floor to his right. He shook his leg nervously and intermittently wiped a tear away. After ascending to become chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee only three years ago, this was the chair that he may be remember sitting in.