WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Veteran Representative Charles Rangel, Congress’ former chief tax writer, should be censured for 11 ethics violations, many involving personal finances, a congressional panel recommended on Thursday.
On a 9-1 vote, the House of Representatives Ethics Committee also recommended the 80-year-old New York Democrat be required to pay restitution for any unpaid taxes.
If the proposed sanctions are approved by the full House after it returns on November 29 from a holiday break, Rangel would be brought to the chamber for a reading of a censure resolution, its toughest punishment short of expulsion.
The 10-member committee — five Democrats and five Republicans — rendered its ruling after Rangel, first elected to Congress in 1971, appeared before the panel. An emotional Rangel admitted mistakes, but insisted, “I did nothing corrupt.”
Rangel was convicted on Tuesday of 11 ethics violations.
They include failing to report income on a rental property, filing inaccurate financial disclosure statements, using a rent-stabilized apartment as a campaign office and improper solicitation of charitable contributions for a public policy center named in his honor.
Speaking before the committee and in a written statement, Rangel said he and other lawmakers should be held accountable.
“Public officials have a higher responsibility than most Americans to obey the rules because we write them. There can be no excuse for my acts of omission. I’ve failed in carrying out my responsibilities. I made numerous mistakes,” Rangel said.
“But corruption and personal enrichment are certainly not part of my mistakes,” Rangel said.
He noted that the panel’s chief counsel, Blake Chisam, had testified he had found “no evidence of corruption,” but instead, sloppy record-keeping.
In urging the panel to recommend censure, Chisam also said Rangel’s ethics violations “brought discredit” to the House and undermined public confidence in it.
Rangel resigned in March as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee after being admonished for corporate-sponsored trips in violation of House gift rules. Before giving up the gavel, he helped craft President Barack Obama’s overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system.
Despite his ethical problems, Rangel’s constituents want to keep the charismatic congressman — a decorated veteran of the Korean War, a former U.S. prosecutor, a civil rights crusader and founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Rangel won a 21st two-year term with 80 percent of the vote in the November 2 election — even as his fellow Democrats lost control of the House to Republicans.
Another prominent House Democrat, Maxine Waters of California, is set to go on trial before a House ethics panel on November 29. She is charged with improperly helping a bank where her husband has an investment.
The fact that two top Democrats face trials within two weeks is embarrassing for their party, particularly since such proceedings are rare.
Rangel was the first House member to face a public ethics trial in Congress since Democratic Representative James Traficant in 2002. Traficant got expelled from Congress after being convicted in a federal court of bribery and racketeering.
Editing by Peter Cooney