Charles Rangel guilty of ethics violations: What happens to him now?

Despite his conviction on ethics violations by a jury of his peers, Charles Rangel will likely not be forced out of Congress. But his legacy and clout have been diminished, which is no small thing.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York awaits the House Adjudicatory subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. On Tuesday, Rangel was convicted of ethics violations. REUTERS//Files

Charles Rangel is a legend in New York politics. The Democratic lawmaker has represented Harlem in Congress for more than 40 years. He was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and served on the House Judiciary Committee when it was weighing the impeachment of Richard Nixon in 1974. Until recently, he was chairman of Ways and Means, perhaps the most powerful congressional committee of all.

Now he stands convicted of 11 House ethics violations by a jury of his peers. What’s going to happen to him next?

The short answer to this question is that he faces the equivalent of a sentencing hearing. The full ethics committee will meet to decide an appropriate punishment. All signs point to that being a letter of reprimand or censure. The ethics panel almost certainly will not call for his expulsion from the House.

Members have taken the drastic action of kicking out one of their own only a handful of times in US history – most often for disloyalty to the US government or violation of criminal law.

Some of Congressman Rangel’s political opponents are calling upon him to resign. On Tuesday the conservative think tank Americans for Limited Government issued a press release that said, in part, “Rangel must go.”

Rangel has indicated that he believes the verdict unfair, however, and he won’t go of his volition. And Harlem voters have already shown that the violations make little difference to their decision as to whether to reelect him. Rangel got 80 percent of the vote in the recent midterm election after beating back a number of challengers in the Democratic primary.

So in one sense, Rangel’s future is not at stake. He’ll still have his job and most of the perks that come with being a senior member of the House.

But the long answer to the question of what’s going to happen to him is that his political power will be greatly diminished and his legacy tarnished, probably irretrievably.

“If the full committee and later the full House reprimand him, as is likely, Mr. Rangel will emerge with his reputation stained but his seat safe,” said Bob Edgar, chairman of the citizen advocacy group Common Cause, in a Tuesday statement.

Ethics charges led Rangel to resign his post on Ways and Means, for instance. With a stroke of a pen he thus diminished his own political clout. It’s true that in the next Congress he would not have been chairman anyway, since Democrats lost their majority. But being the ranking minority member of the powerful tax-writing panel is still much better than languishing as a simple back-bencher.

Rangel himself reacted bitterly to his conviction.

“How can anyone have confidence in the decision of the ethics subcommittee when I was deprived of due process rights, right to counsel, and was not even in the room?” Rangel said in a written statement.

Rangel walked out of his trial on Monday, saying that he needed more time to raise money for his defense and hire new lawyers, after his previous team of attorneys withdrew a few weeks ago. The ethics panel proceeded anyway, noting that as early as 2008 Rangel had been informed of his right to establish a defense legal fund to pay counsel.

The panel, composed of four Democrats and four Republicans, found that among other things Rangel had improperly used congressional resources to solicit donations to the Charles Rangel Center for Public Policy at City College of New York. He had also solicited donations from businesses with interests before the Ways and Means Committee, leaving the impression that money could influence official actions.

He was also convicted of failing to list at least $600,000 in assets in a series of wealth disclosure forms, and of failing to report as income cash earned by renting out his Dominican Republic beach villa.

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