Lessons from the Other Side: A Look at Charlie Rangel

Lessons from the Other Side: A Look at Charlie Rangel


Today at noon, Congressman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) will learn his fate as the House Ethics Committee passes down its sanction(s) for the 11 of 13 ethics violations it found Rangel to have committed.

Despite his inability to procure counsel to represent him during his Tuesday hearing, Congressman Rangel’s peers proceeded through their ethics inquiry, in his absence, and ultimately determined several violations of House rules.

Outraged by the slight and frustrated with the apparent lack of consideration shown him by his colleagues, Congressman Rangel issued a statement setting forth his displeasure with the Committee’s findings.  Now, with the sanctions hearing just moments away, one can only wonder what the ‘jury of his peers’ has in store for the senior statesman.

Congressman Rangel was not the only one, however, who thought the conduct of the Ethics Committee in this instance constituted overreaching.  Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), a sitting member of the Committee has maintained a consistent dissenting voice throughout these proceedings.

According to Scott, the “record is clear that Representative Rangel engaged in irresponsible conduct over the course of several years that resulted in numerous violations of House Rules and other applicable standards.  Representative Rangel’s conduct was not, however, corrupt or criminal, and does not warrant a sanction of reprimand.”

The record is rife with instances when Rangel overlooked proper protocol when it came to procuring and reporting his efforts at funding a campus center named after him, maintaining campaign office space in a rent controlled apartment, and properly accounting for his ownership and occupation of a property in the Dominican Republic.  None of these errors, however, arose to the level of censurable conduct requiring harsh Ethics Committee action.

As noted by Rep. Scott, who does “not condone improper conduct by any Member of the House…the circumstances of this case are not consistent with the precedents of the Standards Committee where a Member has received or the Committee has recommended a reprimand.”

What’s more, said Scott, is that there “is no evidence that Representative Rangel attempted to conceal a conflict of interest or engaged in any of the corrupt conduct that has traditionally warranted a reprimand.”

Rather, he noted, “Representative Rangel’s conduct is the result of good faith mistakes and misunderstandings of legal standards and the scope of his official duties.  His violations of House Rules were caused by his sloppy and careless recordkeeping, but were not criminal or corrupt.”

Unlike Senator Mitch McConnel (R-KY) who steered more than $17 million in earmarks toward BAE Systems, a company that donated $500,000 to the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville, Congressman Rangel’s transgressions pale in comparisson to the level of censurable conduct demonstrated by some of his peers.  By the same token, when the extent of his errors came to light, Congressman Rangel voluntarily stepped down from his post as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, unlike then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich who was in fact reprimanded for questionable conduct and still maintained his position of power and authority over Congress.

The fate of Congressman Rangel has not yet been sealed, but the final outcome of this case will be interesting to note, particularly through the lense of history and in comparisson to the conduct of other members of Congress.