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Traficant Tries to Stop His Expulsion

Congress: The Ohio lawmaker was convicted on federal corruption charges. His House colleagues will now decide his political fate.


WASHINGTON — Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. (D-Ohio) fought for his political life in front of the House ethics committee Monday, arguing that his conviction three months ago on federal corruption and bribery charges was the culmination of a longtime government vendetta and that his colleagues should not expel him because of it.

Traficant, 61, defied calls to resign by leaders on Capitol Hill after his April 11 conviction on all 10 counts of a federal indictment. The jury found, among other charges, that he had taken bribes in exchange for political favors and had his legislative staff shoveling horse stalls at his barn near Youngstown, Ohio, on government time.

Members of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct heard evidence of Traficant's alleged ethics violations during the first day of what is expected to be a two-day hearing. Lawyers for the committee laid out a case against Traficant that paralleled the charges proven in his nine-week criminal trial.

"The evidence we will show will support such findings," said Kenneth Kellner, counsel for the ethics committee. "A continuing pattern and practice of abuse of his office, a pattern that repeated itself over and over and over again."

The nine-term congressman from a working-class district could be expelled from Congress by a vote of three-quarters of the 435-member House--a motion members on both sides of the aisle say would easily pass and could come as soon as next week.

Traficant would become only the second member expelled by his peers since the Civil War era. Rep. Michael Myers (D-Pa.) was removed in 1980 after he was convicted of taking bribes as part of the FBI's Abscam investigation of congressional corruption.

Traficant was alternately combative and resigned about his future during the daylong hearing. At one point, he compared the proceedings to a lynching. At another, he warned he might yet be the first American elected to Congress from a prison cell.

Federal prosecutors last week asked U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells to send Traficant to prison for at least seven years at his sentencing hearing July 30. "Such a pattern of venal, unrepentant misconduct should not be countenanced," they said. "Justice requires that it be punished harshly."

Traficant, known for denim suits and 30-year-old bell-bottom pants, was dressed Monday in an ill-fitting dark suit, gray shirt and narrow tie.

His speaking style, however, lived up to reviews. As during his criminal trial, Traficant represented himself during the committee proceedings. He used his trademark "Beam me up!"--the line that earned him a cult following among avid C-SPAN viewers--early in the day in an attempt to portray the government's case against him as unbelievable.

Congress, he argued, had failed to control the power of the executive branch, leaving people in fear of their government. He was targeted, he said, because he wasn't afraid to stand up for his beliefs.

Traficant sprinkled his one-hour opening statement and later testimony with vulgarities and bathroom humor and threats of physical violence against adversaries that he variously whispered and shouted at committee members who sat quietly watching.

"What the hell?" he said to the crowd during a break. "They're going to throw me out of here, I might as well take my shot."

His rough language came after committee Chairman Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) warned everyone present that he would close the hearings to the public if they were not conducted with the "dignity and decorum that fit any formal proceeding."

Traficant asked for and received permission to present two witnesses today. He told members of the committee--which he had once served as the ranking Democrat--the case against him was "hearsay" and questioned why there was no fingerprint evidence against him.

He said his witnesses, who were not available Monday, would help him make his argument. Traficant told committee members--as he did jurors during his trial--he had been targeted by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service for 20 years as retribution for successfully defending himself in 1983 against charges that he took money from the mob while an elected county sheriff.

"I'm prepared to be expelled. I'm prepared to go to jail because I didn't do this," Traficant said Monday.

"You've allowed RICO [the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act] to be diluted to the point where mothers will be arrested for colluding to buy Kellogg's breakfast cereal."

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