WASHINGTON (AP) - The House ethics committee's chief counsel recommended Thursday that veteran Rep. Charles Rangel of New York be censured for financial and fundraising misconduct as lawmakers neared closure on a 2 1/2-year-long scandal.
The committee deliberated behind closed doors Thursday after counsel Blake Chisam made his recommendation and Rangel pleaded for fairness, telling the panel he was not a crooked politician.
Chisam's recommendation was that Rangel receive the most serious congressional discipline short of expulsion. A censure resolution would require a vote by the House disapproving Rangel's conduct and the speaker would orally administer an embarrassing rebuke to the 20-term Democrat in front of his colleagues.
The ethics committee, made up of five Democrats and five Republicans, could opt for lighter punishments, such as a reprimand, fine or a report deploring Rangel's behavior.
The full House would have to vote on a reprimand or fine, but Rangel would be spared the embarrassment of being rebuked at the front of the chamber, called the well. The House also could change the recommended discipline by making it more serious or less serious.
Rangel, 80, who has served in the House for 40 years, ended a sanctions hearing with an emotional plea to salvage his reputation.
Before speaking, he sat for several minutes trying to compose himself. He placed his hands over his eyes and then his chin, before he slowly stood up and said in a gravelly voice that was barely audible: "I don't know how much longer I have to live."
Facing the committee members, he asked them to "see your way clear to say, 'This member was not corrupt.'"
He continued: "There's no excuse for my behavior and no intent to go beyond what has been given to me as a salary. I apologize for any embarrassment I've caused you individually and collectively as a member of the greatest institution in the world."
In the most dramatic clash of the proceeding, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, questioned the assertion of Rangel—the former chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee—that he wasn't corrupt.
"Failure to pay taxes for 17 years. What is that?" McCaul asked, referring to Rangel's shortchanging the Internal Revenue Service on rental income from his villa in the Dominican Republic.