Published November 18, 2010
There is a saying: to whom much is given, much is expected. In the case of 20-term New York Rep. Charlie Rangel, he was given a lot of power as Chairman of the influential House Ways and Means Committee. What was expected in return was the same as any elected official: they must avoid even the appearance of impropriety and act respectably and ethically at all times, putting the people before their power lust and personal gain. Rangel, however, did none of that.
After years of delaying and feet dragging by his own party for political cover, Rangel was finally found guilty this week by unanimous consent of the bi-partisan House ethics subcommittee on 11 of 13 ethics counts mounted against him. The charges: violating New York City's building code, improperly using congressional letterhead, and failing to file his taxes. Today the committee censured Rangel, a rare move of discipline that the House hasn’t invoked since 1983.
Though Rangel represents the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Harlem, his performance during this week’s proceedings belonged on Broadway. Rangel defiantly stormed out of the trial on Monday. Then he released a statement throwing himself on the mercy of the committee – only after he used his clout to shut down rallies that his supporters had planned for him. The grandstanding came to a climax today on Capitol Hill when the disgraced congressman offered an emotional apology.
Blake Chisam, the ethics-committee lawyer who is serving as prosecutor for Mr. Rangel's disciplinary proceedings, told the panel that the senior New York Democrat's behavior "demonstrated a lack of attention and carelessness over a broad range of issues over a lengthy period of time'' and that the punishment of censure was appropriate.
For the record, Mr. Chisam used to work for the Committee’s chair, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a fellow Democrat. There was a clear conflict of interest that the GOP never caught on to – they should have called for him to recuse himself.
But, contrary to what Chisam stated, Rangel’s actions weren’t caused by a lack of attention. In fact, it was the exact opposite. Rangel knowingly used his power and seniority to abuse the office.
As Rep. Jo Bonner, a member of the Ethics Committee said, Rangel demonstrated "so little regard and respect either for the institution he has claimed to love or for the people in his district in New York that he has claimed to proudly represent for more than 40 years."
Though Rangel is unlikely to face the most severe possible punishment —expulsion from Congress (because that penalty is typically reserved for lawmakers whose conduct isn't just unethical but also unlawful) — it’s time for Charlie to leave the U.S. House immediately to preserve any shred of dignity he might have left. If Democrats hope to regain any credibility on ethics, they’ll help him pack.
Andrea Tantaros is a conservative columnist and Fox News contributor. Follow her on Twitter: @andreatantaros.