House Ethics Panel Convicts Rep. Rangel on 11 of 13 Counts

Susan Crabtree and Jordan Fabian, The Hill, Nov. 16, 2010

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), once one of the most powerful members of the House, was convicted Tuesday on 11 counts of violating House ethics rules and now faces punishment.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the adjudicatory subcommittee and the full House ethics committee, announced the decision late Tuesday morning following an abbreviated public trial and nearly six hours of deliberations.

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The full ethics panel will now convene a sanctions hearing to recommend a punishment, which ethics experts say will most likely be a reprimand or formal censure. The ethics committee Tuesday afternoon had yet to announce when the hearing would occur.

Serious sanctions–including formal reprimand, censure or expulsion–require a vote on the House floor. Expulsion requires a two-thirds vote, while a reprimand, which Rangel refused to agree to in July, or a censure would need just a simple majority. The ethics panel could also impose a fine and deny some of Rangel’s House privileges.

But Rangel, 80, is certainly not expected to lose his job. The silver-haired 20-term veteran, known for his gravelly voice, humor and sartorial splendor, is still beloved by many of his House colleagues. And in the lame-duck session, Democrats still hold the majority.

Either reprimand or formal censure carry no immediate, tangible consequence for Rangel, who easily won reelection this month, but the sweeping guilty verdict delivers a damaging blow to his reputation and 40-year political legacy.

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Asked if he had any reaction to the panel’s decision, Rangel initially told reporters, “Nope, none,” adding that he first saw the ruling on television.

Later, in an official statement, Rangel slammed the ethics subcommittee’s “unprecedented” decision, saying his due process rights were violated because the panel ruled without him having legal representation.

“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. “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 sanction.”

Rangel also lamented the lack of a system to appeal the House ethics panel’s decision.

“While I am required to accept the findings of the Ethics Committee, I am compelled to state again the unfairness of its continuation without affording me the opportunity to obtain legal counsel as guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution,” he said.

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