A U.S. House ethics panel is recommending censure for veteran Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel of New York for ethics violations. It was an emotional day for the 80-year-old African American lawmaker, who is a veteran of both the Korean War and civil rights struggles in the United States.
The chief lawyer for the House Ethics Committee had recommended that Congressman Rangel be censured for ethics violations, saying his actions discredited the House of Representatives and undermined public confidence in the institution. The House will likely consider a censure motion after the Thanksgiving holiday recess next week. If it passes, Rangel would suffer the embarrassment of standing before his colleagues and receiving an oral rebuke by the Speaker of the House. The five Democrats and five Republicans on the ethics panel deliberated for several hours behind closed doors Thursday. The vote was 9-1.
Before the committee adjourned to decide Rangel's punishment in closed session, Rangel broke down in tears.
"And I apologize for any embarrassment I have caused you individually or collectively as a member of the greatest institution in the country and the world," said Charles Rangel.
On Tuesday the committee found Rangel guilty of 11 violations, including using House of Representatives official stationary and congressional staff to solicit money for a New York college center named after himself. The group also found Rangel had failed to disclose at least $600,000 in assets and income in a series of inaccurate reports to Congress.
The panel also found him guilty of improperly using a rent-controlled residential apartment as a campaign office and failure to report rental income from a house in the Dominican Republic.
Republican members of the ethics committee had some harsh words for Rangel, saying he was trying to evade responsibility for his own actions. One of them was Congressman Jo Bonner of Alabama, who said it was painful for him to stand in judgment of Rangel, whom he called bigger than life.
"But Mr. Rangel can no longer blame anyone other than himself for the position he now finds himself in," said Bonner. "Not his committee, not his staff or family, not the accountants or lawyers, not the press. Mr. Rangel should only look into the mirror if he wants to know who to blame."
Congressman Rangel, an iconic figure for many African Americans, acknowledged that he had been sloppy in his finances but repeatedly denied that he was corrupt. He pleaded for "a drop of fairness and mercy".
"It would really help, and I don't think it is out of line, if the committee did not say it before, that you could put in that report, no matter what you agree the sanctions should be, that your member was not corrupt, and did not seek and did not gain anything personally for the bad conduct that I have had," said Rangel.
Democratic Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, a towering figure in the U.S. civil rights movement, spoke on Rangel's behalf, calling him "a good and decent man" who has "always been a champion for those who have been left out and left behind."
The two marched together with the late Reverend Martin Luther King for voting rights for African Americans in Selma, Alabama.
Rangel was first elected to Congress in 1970 from a heavily Democratic district in New York City's Harlem district. Before that, he went to law school after serving in the Korean War.
Despite the charges against him, he won re-election there earlier this month with 80 percent of the vote.
Due to the ethics allegations, Rangel stepped down as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in March. Another prominent House Democrat, Maxine Waters of California, is set to go on trial before a House ethics panel on November 29. Waters, a member of the Financial Services Committee, is charged with improperly helping a bank where her husband has an investment.