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Rangel faces punishment, seeks fairness and mercy

WASHINGTON — Rep. Charles Rangel of New York pleaded Thursday for “a drop of fairness and mercy” as he braced for likely punishment for his ethical misdeeds.

The Harlem Democrat, who rarely sticks to a script, released prepared remarks for a House ethics committee hearing that will decide how he should be sanctioned.

The 80-year-old Rangel was convicted Tuesday on 11 counts of violating House rules. He misused his office in fundraising for a college center named after him, set up a campaign office in a subsidized, residential-only apartment unit, made public a decade of misleading financial statements and failed to pay taxes for 17 years on rental income from a beach villa.

The committee of five members from each party will deliberate after hearing from Rangel and ethics chief counsel Blake Chisam. Chisam will recommend the punishment for the former Ways and Means Committee chairman.

“There can be no excuse for my acts of omission,” Rangel said. “I’ve failed in carrying out my responsibilities. I made numerous mistakes. But corruption and personal enrichment are certainly not part of my mistakes.”

The committee can recommend any of several forms of punishment. One strong possibility is a House vote to censure Rangel for his misconduct.

Rangel spoke of his personal agony: “The sky fell down. The nightmare began. Soon after I took the gavel at Ways and Means I have been smeared with allegations of corruption and personal gain. Two years ago I referred these media allegations to the ethics committee, confident that I would be protected from these attacks and false accusations.”

He rejected his conviction, saying the committee failed to meet prove that he had “deviated from his sense of duty to this body and this great country.”

Then, he asked for mercy. “I hope my 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,” Rangel said.

A censure vote is a resolution disapproving a member’s conduct. The lawmaker then is escorted to the front of the House chamber, known as the well, by the sergeant-at-arms. While standing before his colleagues, the speaker of the House then issues an oral rebuke.

A lesser reprimand also requires a House vote of disapproval, but without the member appearing in the well.

Rangel has asked the ethics committee and the public to take into account his four decades of service in the House, where he’s tied for fourth in seniority.

Until March, when he relinquished his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee, Rangel wielded great power over tax legislation. He stepped down in March after the ethics committee concluded, in a separate case, that Rangel improperly allowed corporations to pay for two trips to the Caribbean.

He complained at his ethics trial Monday that the proceeding was unfair because he needed time to obtain new lawyers. Rangel argued that his former defense team abandoned him after he paid them nearly $2 million — but he could afford no more. The panel rejected his request, and Rangel walked out of the proceeding.

Rangel, a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, remains a political kingpin in New York’s Harlem neighborhood and is unlikely to resign. He won re-election earlier this month.

His conviction was a fresh setback for Democrats who lost control of the House to the GOP in the midterm elections, providing support for Republican candidates’ assertions of bad conduct.