Maverick lawmaker expects expulsion

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Shouting invectives, convicted Rep. James Traficant proclaimed himself the victim of a government vendetta Monday, declaring he is innocent of bribery, fraud and tax evasion charges but conceding he expects to be kicked out of Congress and sent to prison.

The Ohio Democrat pleaded with an eight-member panel of the House ethics committee to listen to witnesses and tape recordings excluded from his criminal trial, saying they would prove the Justice Department forced witnesses to lie on the stand.

"Every single witness was in jeopardy and harm and got a 'get out of jail free' card for implicating Traficant in some crime," he said of the nine-week federal criminal court trial in Cleveland.

Just like then, Traficant, though not a lawyer, represented himself Monday. The ethics panel will decide if the convictions represent a "continuing pattern and practice of official misconduct" and, if so, whether they warrant the House expelling the nine-term maverick lawmaker.

One of the most colorful members of Congress, known for his wild hair, loud clothes and animated floor speeches -- "Beam me up!" he regularly exclaimed -- Traficant could become only the second member of the House since the Civil War to be expelled.

"I had no intent to commit a crime, but I will do the time, and expect a long time to try and shut me up," said Traficant. He contends federal prosecutors have been out to get him since 1983 when, as a sheriff, he successfully defended himself against bribery charges.

"But let me tell you, there will be some smoking gun that will come out before it's over in the Traficant case and you will recognize that you let a member of Congress be convicted," he told the ethics panel.

'I am member too'

Committee lawyer Kenneth Kellner told House members there is more than enough evidence for panel members to recommend throwing Traficant out of office. Traficant "violated the public trust and traded his office for personal gain," Kellner said.

Prosecutors have recommended he serve at least 7 1/4 years in prison on the convictions of taking kickbacks from staffers and bribes from businessmen. Sentencing is scheduled for July 30.

Traficant, 61, maintains that all he did was help thousands of business in his district by bringing home federal projects.

"I am a member too," Traficant said. "I may not be the most liked, and I may have unorthodox measures and I may have raided this House for some appropriations money, but I'm a member, too, and I'll be damned if I'm going to be treated like a dog."

Traficant insisted the Justice Department pressured witnesses and even Congress to keep him quiet. Democrats removed him from all of his committee assignments after he voted to make Republican Dennis Hastert of Illinois speaker rather than Democratic leader Dick Gephardt.

House Ethics Committee Chairman Joel Hefley, R-Colo., noted that Traficant spent most of his hour-long opening statement railing against the government and officials' motives for prosecuting him.

"I don't think we're interested in why you got here," Hefley said. "I think we're interested in, 'Did you do the things you're accused of?"'

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