Embattled Rep. Charles Rangel Censured: 'There's No Evidence'

Democrat first to receive the House's second-most-serious punishment in 27 years

December 2, 2010, 5:27 PM

Dec. 2, 2010— -- Veteran Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., today became the first U.S. House member in 27 years to be censured after a long trial that resulted in him being convicted on 11 counts of ethics violations.

The censure, the highest punishment short of expulsion, is reserved for serious offenses and requires the member in question to stand before his or her colleagues while a censure resolution is read.

An amendment reducing the punishment to reprimand prior to the final vote failed overwhelmingly.

The censure has been used only 23 times in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives. The last time a member of Congress was censured was 1983, when then-Rep. Dan Crane, R-Ill., and Rep. Gerry Studds, D-Mass., faced the penalty for having sexual relationships with minors.

Rangel, a veteran who has served in the House since 1971, stood today in the front of members of Congress this afternoon flanked by his supporters while a somber Speaker Nancy Pelosi read the resolution rebuking his conduct.

The 80-year-old congressman apologized for the "awkward position" he's put his family and friends in, but reiterated that he did not commit the violations for personal gains.

"In my heart, I truly feel good," he said. "I know in my heart that I'm not going to be judged by this Congress, that I'm going to be judged by my life, my activities, my contributions to society, and I apologize for the awkward position that some of you are in."

The congressman instead suggested that most members who voted for the censure did so to appease their constituents, and he placed much of the blame on his staff members' indiscretions.

"There's no evidence that I did anything to enrich myself or that I did anything corrupt," Rangel said at a press conference following the hearing. "I'm convinced when history of this has been written, that people would recognize that the vote for censure was a very, very, very political vote."

Rangel, who was recently the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, earlier today argued for a lesser punishment. He made his case again on the House floor, saying he shouldn't be given a penalty that is reserved for corrupt politicians.

"I have made serious mistakes," he said. "I do believe rules are made to be enforced. I do believe we in Congress have a higher responsibility than most people."

There's "no evidence of corruption, no evidence of self-enrichment found, no evidence there was an intention on my part to evade my responsibility, whether in taxes or whether in financial disclosures," Rangel said. "And there's absolutely no excuse for my omissions, for my responsibility to obey those rules. I take full credit. ... I brought it on myself, but I still believe that this body has to be guided by fairness."

Last month, the House ethics committee found Rangel guilty of 11 of 13 violations of House rules, including using official resources improperly to raise funds from businesses and foundations for a center at the City College of New York that's named after him.

He also was found guilty of not paying taxes for 17 years on a rental property he owns in the Dominican Republic, even as he chaired the committee in charge of writing tax laws.

"Nothing we say here today will diminish his service to the country," Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., chairwoman of the ethics committee, said on the House floor today. "But that service does not excuse the fact that he violated regulations ... and the standard of conduct."

The ethics committee recommended by a vote of 9-1 to censure the Rangel, not over direct personal gain but "the cumulative nature of the violations."

Rangel, one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus, also was asked to pay back taxes for his international property.

Though he apologized, Rangel contested the entire ethics proceeding, saying it violated his right to due process because the committee would not further delay his trial so that he could explore the creation of a legal defense fund to pay his bills.

He stormed out of the proceeding on the first day, saying he couldn't afford an attorney to represent him, even though Lofgren said he had had ample time to explore representation.

ABC News' Ariane de Vogue contributed to this report.

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