Charlie Rangel Braces for Punishment; Censure Likely

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WASHINGTON — Rep. Charles Rangel of New York braced Thursday for House colleagues' decision on his punishment for financial misdeeds, a solemn moment likely to define his four decades in Congress.

Rangel, a Democratic kingpin and hero of Harlem, is almost certain to receive a formal censure, the House's harshest punishment short of expulsion. It would be the first time the chamber had leveled that sanction since 1983.

The 40-year congressional veteran insists he did not intend to break any House rules, and he walked out of the ethics committee's deliberations last month because, he said, he had been treated unfairly for "good faith mistakes." The panel found him guilty on 11 of 13 charges and overwhelmingly recommended the 80-year-old lawmaker be censured.

[See a slide show of 10 reasons Charlie Rangel is in trouble.]

It's a difficult sunset for Rangel's long career. A jovial backslapper with a distinctive gravelly voice, Rangel was re-elected in November with more than 80 percent of the vote despite being under an ethics cloud for more than two years. He has argued that censure is reserved for corrupt politicians — and he's not one of them.

He also has been making a more personal plea, asking colleagues to remember that he won a Purple Heart after he was wounded in combat in Korea, to focus on his efforts for the underprivileged and to understand that he has great respect for the institution he has served for so long. He's tied for fourth in House seniority.

Backed by the Congressional Black Caucus and the New York delegation, Rangel fought till the end for a reprimand — a less-harsh punishment for misconduct. That effort promised to tie up the House in a procedural tangle before the vote late Thursday.

The House ethics committee painted Rangel as a congressman who ignored rules of conduct and became a tax scofflaw despite his knowledge of tax law from his long service on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

Rangel chaired that panel until last March, when he stepped down after the panel — in a separate case — found that he improperly allowed corporations to finance two trips to Caribbean conferences.

Rangel shortchanged the IRS for 17 years by failing to pay taxes on income from his rental unit in a Dominican Republic resort. He filed misleading financial disclosure reports for a decade, leaving out hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets he owned.

He used congressional letterheads and staff to solicit donations for a monument to himself: a center named after him at City College of New York. The donors included businesses and their charitable foundations that had issues before Congress and, specifically, before the Ways and Means Committee.

Rangel also set up a campaign office in the Harlem building where he lives, despite a lease specifying the unit was for residential use only.

[See who donated to Rangel's campaign.]

He has paid the Treasury $10,422 and New York state $4,501 to fulfill an ethics committee recommendation. The amounts were to cover taxes he would have owed on his villa income had the statute of limitations not run out on his tax bills.

The last previous House censure was in 1983, when two members, Reps. Gerry E. Studds, D-Mass., and Daniel Crane, R-Ill., were disciplined for having sex with teenage pages. Nine House members have been reprimanded, the latest last year when Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. was punished for a breach of decorum.

Wilson had yelled "You lie" at President Barack Obama during a nationally televised speech to Congress.

The objective for the House is to make the punishment fit the ethics violation. In past cases, a censure usually was reserved for congressmen who enriched themselves personally.

Rangel was not charged with lining his pockets. But the ethics committee found that his violations went on for so long that the pattern of misconduct deserved a censure.

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