WASHINGTON (AP) — The House ethics committee's chief counsel recommended Thursday that veteran Rep. Charles Rangel be censured for financial and fundraising misconduct as lawmakers neared closure on an embarrassing 2½-year-long scandal.
Chief counsel Blake Chisam called for the punishment despite the veteran New York congressman's plea, in a prepared statement in advance of the hearing, for "a drop of fairness and mercy."
If Chisam's recommendation is carried out, it would be the most serious punishment short of expulsion that could be meted out by the House. Chisam and Rangel argued their positions at a public hearing on sanctions, where the 80-year-old congressman acknowledged making mistakes in handling his finances and said he wasn't there to "retry this case."
He did say he wished the committee would weigh, in considering its vote on punishment, how the House had handled previous cases involving lawmakers who were enriched by activities they undertook that were judged to be in violation of the chamber's rules.
Rangel spoke calmly without notes as he faced the committee. He repeatedly denied he was corrupt or crooked, sparking a clash with Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas.
McCaul questioned whether Rangel's conduct was, in fact, corrupt.
He noted that Rangel targeted donors for a college center named after him, people who had legislative issues that Rangel could influence in the Ways and Means Committee.
Rangel, McCaul added, didn't pay taxes on his Dominican Republic villa for 17 years.
"Failure to pay taxes for 17 years. What is that?" McCaul asked. He noted that former Rep. James Traficant, who was expelled after a felony conviction, didn't pay taxes for just two years.
Rangel argued, "City College (of New York) came to me to use my name. I was not trying to criminally hide anything from the IRS and Congress."
He said he didn't know the landlord of his New York apartment building placed him on a special handling list, when Rangel set up a campaign office in a subsidized unit designated for residential use.
Before Chisam commenced his remarks, Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Ala., told committee colleagues that Rangel needed only to "look in the mirror to know who to blame" for his predicament.
Chisam said Rangel "brought discredit" upon the House and that his actions "served to undermine public confidence in this institution."
The committee recess for a floor vote and planned to reconvene later Thursday to continue discussion and hold a closed session to discuss Chisam's recommendation.
Rangel also brought in Rep. John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat, to give a testimonial for the congressman to the panel. Lewis called his colleague "a good and decent man" and said he had worked tirelessly to advance civil rights.
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