By Michael Mcauliff and Corky Siemaszko
Daily News Staff Writers Embattled Rep. Charles Rangel faced possible censure by his peers Thursday for violating House ethics rules - a far harsher and far more humiliating punishment than the legendary lawmaker had been banking on.
Rangel was hit with the recommendation after he admitted making "mistakes," pleaded for "a drop of fairness and mercy" while insisting he did "nothing corrupt."
Chief panel prober Blake Chisam recommended censure after ranking member Rep. Jo Bonner(R-Al.) ripped into Rangel, telling him he let his Harlem constituents down.
Bonner said that if Rangel was looking for somebody to blame for his problems, he needs only "to look into the mirror."
"I look at myself, Mr. Bonner, every morning," Rangel said, when it was his turn to talk. "I didn't try to hide anything from anybody."
If censured, Rangel would be the 23rd House member to face that punishment - and the first in 27 years.
While not as severe as expulsion, a censured lawmaker faces the humiliating prospect of having to stand before Congress and listen mutely as the House speaker reads him the riot act.
Had Rangel been reprimanded, he would have gotten a letter in the mail advising him of his wrongdoing - a relative slap on the wrist by comparison.
Before Chisam made his recommendation, Bonner said they were "nearing the end of a long, difficult and unpleasant task."
Rangel, who brought along Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), an icon of the civil rights movement, for moral support, glared as Bonner administered a tongue lashing.
"Charlie Rangel is a good and decent man," said Lewis, who called Rangel "my brother" and then took off before the hearing was over.
Earlier, in a prepared statement, Rangel admitted he made "mistakes" but insisted he had been "smeared with allegations of corruption and personal gain."
Rangel, who had been found guilty by the House panel of 11 ethics violations, wrote he was "disappointed that the Committee reached its decision without affording me the right to adequately defend myself with the aid of counsel."
The 80-year-old lawmaker did not mention that it was his decision to show up for his ethics trial without a lawyer - and then boycott the proceedings after the panel refused his request for a delay.
Rangel insisted that "corruption and personal enrichment are certainly not part of my mistakes and the Committee's chief counsel made that abundantly clear."
Rangel was referring to Chisam, who argued there was no corruption or personal benefit in the congressman's actions.
The raspy voiced Democrat recounted his Korean War heroics, how he fought for Civil Rights, how he rose to become chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means committee.
"And then the sky fell down," he wrote in his statement. "The nightmare began. Soon after I took the gavel at Ways and Means I have been smeared with allegations of corruption and personal gain."
Writing in the third person, Rangel argued that the Committee has not presented "clear and convincing evidence that Charlie Rangel has deviated from his sense of duty to this body and this great country."
In closing, Rangel wrote that he hoped his "four decades of service merit a sanction that is in keeping with and no greater than House precedents and also contains a drop of fairness and mercy."
The panel found "clear and convincing evidence" that Rangel violated House ethics rules, ending a two-year investigation into his tangled personal finances.
Among other things, Rangel was found guilty of using his official letterhead to solicit money for a center in his name at City College, failing to pay $10,000 in taxes on his Dominican Republic villa, and misusing rent-stabilized apartments in Manhattan.
He was acquitted on the charge of violating the House of Representatives' rule on accepting gifts.