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House panel finds Rangel guilty of ethics violations

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Rangel: I'm really disappointed
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Sanctions hearing is scheduled for Thursday
  • Republicans call the ruling against Rangel an indictment of Democratic House management
  • The full ethics committee will recommend a penalty to the House
  • Accusations include failing to pay taxes on a home

Washington (CNN) -- A House ethics subcommittee found longtime Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel guilty Tuesday on multiple violations of House rules.

The subcommittee, according to California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the ethics committee chairwoman, found "clear and convincing" evidence of guilt on 11 of 12 counts, including failing to pay taxes on a home in the Dominican Republic, misuse of a rent-controlled apartment for political purposes and improper use of government mail service and letterhead.

The veteran New York congressman was cleared of a charge relating to an alleged violation of the House gift ban.

Rangel, who was re-elected this month, had been facing 13 charges; the committee combined two of them.

The full ethics committee -- known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct -- will now recommend a punishment for Rangel to the House of Representatives. The penalty can range from a fine to expulsion. Most observers believe Rangel is likely to be reprimanded but not expelled.

A full committee hearing on the sanctions is scheduled for Thursday.

Rangel found guilty of ethics violations
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R. Blake Chisam, the committee's chief counsel, told subcommittee members in a trial hearing Monday that there was no proof of corruption or evidence Rangel was trying "to personally enrich himself." But, Chisam said, Rangel "quite frankly was overzealous" in many instances and "at least sloppy in his personal finances."

Before Chisam spoke, Rangel walked out of the trial, complaining he has not had sufficient time to hire a new legal team to respond to the ethics violation charges.

The subcommittee rejected Rangel's request to delay the hearing until a new defense team was assembled.

Rangel told the subcommittee members he has already spent $2 million defending himself from the charges and has been advised the trial could cost him another $1 million.

He complained that he was not being given enough time to raise funds to hire new lawyers because the committee was rushing to complete its work before the conclusion of the current lame-duck Congress.

Rangel's original defense team left him in September.

"Does this sound like it has a scintilla of due process?" Rangel said to reporters early Tuesday evening. "Does it sound fair that you have a respondent that sent the case to you, that it took two years to reach a conclusion, and accusations are made, just before the election, and the hearing is declared after the election with the understanding that there will be no witnesses called? It just doesnt sound like the fair thing to do."

"I never heard of a trial or hearing where they said we're not going to call witnesses because they said we just don't have time," the congressman said.

Rangel said he did not regret asking the subcommittee to investigate him, saying he "was very anxious to prove to my constituents" that he was innocent.

Lofgren said Monday it was Rangel's responsibility to assemble his legal team. She also noted that Rangel had received advice numerous times from the committee on how to raise funds for his defense.

Several subcommittee members, however, blasted Zuckerman Spaeder, the law firm originally representing Rangel.

It is "fundamentally unfair" for lawyers to abandon a client on the eve of a trial, said North Carolina Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a former trial judge. "That would not have happened in my courtroom."

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, expressed his "astonishment at Zuckerman Spaeder for taking the money ... and then kicking their client to the side of the road when it came time for the actual hearing."

In a statement issued in response to the criticism, a spokeswoman for the firm said it "did not seek to terminate the relationship [with Rangel] and explored every alternative to remain as his counsel consistent with House ethics rules prohibiting members from accepting pro bono legal services."

Numerous House Republicans -- as well as some House Democrats -- have called for Rangel to resign because of the alleged ethics violations. Rangel has said he has made mistakes.

Republicans on Tuesday were quick to characterize the ruling as an indictment of the Democrats' stewardship of the House.

The ruling "is the nail in the coffin of what Nancy Pelosi promised would be the 'most ethical congress in history,'" National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain said. "The arrogance of power that defined the Democrats reign over the House of Representatives was overwhelmingly rejected on November 2, and today's ruling is further proof that the American people were right."

Rangel, who was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1970, was forced to step down as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee because of the allegations against him.

Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California is also scheduled to have an adjudication hearing with the House ethics committee this month, on November 29. Waters has denied the allegations against her, which include steering federal bailout money to Massachusetts-based OneUnited Bank -- in which her husband had a financial stake.

CNN's Alan Silverleib, Rachel Streitfeld and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

 
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