Rangel says US ethics panel ruled against him
* Rangel says ethics findings violate common sense
* Declines to say if he will step down as chairman
WASHINGTON Feb 26 (Reuters) - Democrat Charles Rangel, the top tax writer in the U.S. Congress, was admonished by a congressional ethics committee for taking corporate-funded trips to the Caribbean, a finding he said defied "common sense."
The House of Representatives ethics committee concluded that Rangel broke the chamber's gift rules in taking the trips but it did not immediately release its report. Rangel called a news conference on Thursday after news accounts disclosed the findings.
Quoting from his copy of the report, Rangel said it found he did not know the trips in 2007 and 2008 were underwritten by corporations, but that two of his staffers did.
"Common sense dictates that members of Congress should not be held responsible for what could be the wrongdoing or errors of staff, unless there's reason to believe that the member knew or should have known -- and there's nothing in the record to indicate the latter," Rangel told reporters on Capitol Hill.
"I think right now I have to let the general community make its own judgment," Rangel said.
Rangel declined to respond when asked if he would step down as chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
Republicans, who have called repeatedly for Rangel's resignation as committee chairman, said the findings made a mockery of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's pledge to run the most ethical Congress in history.
"The Democratic majority now has a serious ethics scandal on its hands, thanks in-part to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi," said Ken Spain, communications director of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
"For months, and even years, Nancy Pelosi has been promoting corrupt actors within her caucus ranks when she should have been punishing them," said Spain.
"Struggling middle class Americans deserve better than to have a tax cheat chairing a powerful congressional committee," he said.
The ethics committee probe of the New York lawmaker has gone on for more than a year.
The panel, composed of three Democrats and three Republicans, is still looking other matters, including his use of a rent-controlled apartment and his fundraising for the Charles Rangel Center for Public Service in New York City.
While the investigation has cast a shadow over Rangel, he has retained the support of a number of key Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
As of late Thursday, the ethics committee had not released its report. But Rangel read portions of it to reporters.
"Charles B. Rangel violated the house gift rules," the committee said, adding that release of its report would constitute a "public admonishment."
As one of the most powerful U.S. lawmakers, Rangel spent much of Thursday at a White House summit designed to try to find an elusive bipartisan agreement to overhaul U.S. healthcare. (Reporting by Andy Sullivan and Thomas Ferraro; Editing by David Alexander and Peter Cooney)
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