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Rangel Seeks Leniency From Ethics Committee

Updated: 3:24 p.m.

Rep. Charlie Rangel offered a final plea to the House ethics committee Thursday before the panel convened a closed-door session to determine how to sanction the New York Democrat for his repeated violations of the chamber’s rules.

“I just hope no matter what you decide in the sanctions that you put in that report that Congressman Rangel never sought any personal gains,” Rangel said in his final remarks to the panel. “I’ve been overpaid in terms of the satisfaction I’ve gotten from everything.”

He also accused the media of depicting him as a “crook,” stating, “What the press has done to me … is totally unfair.”

“It’s not your responsibility to correct them, but they will continue to call me a crook and charge me with being corrupt,” he added.

Blake Chisam, the ethics panel’s top attorney — who served as prosecutor during Rangel’s ethics trial earlier this week — recommended that the senior Democrat be censured for his actions, one of the most severe sanctions under House rules.

Rangel was found guilty earlier this week of misusing federal resources to solicit donations for a City College of New York center named in his honor, using a rent-stabilized apartment for his campaign office, failing to pay taxes on a villa in the Dominican Republic and filing inaccurate financial disclosure forms.

During the first half of the sanction hearing, Rangel also criticized the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, asserting that he might have reached a settlement in the case — rather than proceed to an ethics trial — if the panel had agreed to say Rangel’s actions were not corrupt.

The New York lawmaker cited Chisam’s statement during Monday’s adjudicatory hearing, in which the ethics aide stated: “I believe the Congressman, quite frankly, was overzealous in many of the things that he did and sloppy in his personal finances,” but not corrupt.

Asked about that statement Thursday, Chisam reiterated his opinion.

“Congressman, the other day I answered a question. I answered it based on my reading of the record, the interviews that I’ve conducted, the people I’ve talked to,” Chisam said. “It was my opinion, mine. I do not presume to speak for anyone else, nor did I intend too. I do think it comes to the question of intent at the end of the day, and that’s how I interpreted [Rep. G.K.] Butterfield’s [D-N.C.] question.”

Nonetheless, Chisam, echoing a report authored by the adjudicatory subcommittee that tried Rangel’s case, cited the New York lawmaker’s senior status in recommending the lawmaker be censured, instead of a reprimanded, a less severe penalty.

“A reprimand would not be inconsistent with the precedent,” Chisam said, after detailing a half-dozen Members previously punished by the committee. But he added, “We cannot ignore the fact that respondent was, at relevant times, either the chairman or ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee.”

Rangel forfeited his gavel in March after the ethics committee reprimanded him in an unrelated investigation for taking part in two Caribbean trips that violated House rules because the events received corporate funding.

Regardless of whether the ethics panel accepts Chisam’s recommendation or opts for the lesser sanction of reprimand, the full House must vote to approve the punishment.

Should the committee urge censure against Rangel, he could become the 23rd lawmaker to be censured by the House. Chisam stated that since the ethics committee’s creation 43 years ago, the panel has recommended censure only three times.

When a lawmaker faces censure, the resolution includes a verbal admonition, which may be administered by the Speaker reading the resolution to the Member at the bar of the House.

The ethics committee recessed Thursday afternoon to allow Members to take part in a vote on the House floor. The committee is expected to reconvene publicly before its Members move to an executive session to make their determination.

During his opening remarks, Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), the panel’s ranking member, criticized Rangel’s decision not to participate in the adjudicatory proceedings Monday, asserting the Democrat “was showing so little regard and respect, even for the institution that he has claimed to love.”

Rangel made a brief appearance before the adjudicatory hearing Monday, but he boycotted the proceedings after the panel rejected his requests for a postponement.

“I know and I believe we all know that it should not take either a law degree or a legal dictionary to ”distinguish “between right and wrong,” Bonner said.

Bonner also criticized the ethics committee for failing to schedule Rangel’s ethics trial prior to the November general election.

“In my mind, the most unfair thing of all was that his constituents were denied an opportunity … before they, the voters of the 15th district of New York, had an opportunity to choose their Representative earlier this year,” Bonner said. “It is my view that the committee failed the people of the 15th district of New York for this reason alone.”

Rep. John Lewis appeared at the hearing to speak on Rangel’s behalf.

“I don’t know the facts in this case. I’ve known Mr. Rangel for more than 50 years,” the Georgia Democrat said, recalling Rangel’s work in during the civil rights era.

“He has always been a champion for those who have been left out and left behind,” Lewis said. “Charlie Rangel is a good and decent man. I know this man.”

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