|Traficant's last stand
By PAUL M. KRAWZAK Copley News Service
WASHINGTON -- An unusually subdued Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. on Wednesday became only the fifth congressman in history to be expelled from the U.S. House of Representatives.
The House voted 420-1 to expel the nine-term lawmaker after the House ethics committee found him guilty of nine ethics violations, including taking kickbacks from a staffer and accepting gifts from businesses in exchange for his influence as a congressman.
The expulsion took effect immediately.
Addressing the full House for the first time since a jury in April convicted him of bribery, tax evasion and corruption in federal court in Cleveland, the former sheriff from Mahoning County repeated his insistence that he was innocent.
He also beseeched his colleagues not to expel him, even though he acknowledged that he expects to go to prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Tuesday.
“I want 145 votes, and I want to be able to go up and fight the Justice Department and the IRS,” he said, knowing that a two-thirds vote of those present was necessary to expel him. “I’m not going to shut up. I want your vote.”
Pausing a moment, the Poland Democrat added, “Vote your conscience. Nothing personal.”
The only congressman to vote against expulsion was Rep. Gary Condit, the California Democrat who lost a bid for re-election after accusations that he had an affair with intern Chandra Levy before she disappeared and was later found dead.
Among area lawmakers, Reps. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville, Sherrod Brown, D-Lorain,
Ted Strickland, D-Lucasville, and Tom Sawyer, D-Akron, all voted to expel Traficant.
In urging the House to expel Traficant, lawmakers noted that the ethics committee had voted unanimously to expel the
congressman after poring over evidence from the federal trial in Cleveland.
“Not one member was out to get Jim Traficant,” said Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., chairman of the ethics committee. “There
wasn’t a partisanship issue to this in committee.”
Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., the vice chairman of the ethics committee, argued that the gravity of Traficant’s offenses
required the most serious punishment, which is expulsion.
Traficant appeared resigned to his fate, saying, “I’m prepared to lose everything. I’m prepared to go to jail. Go ahead and expel me.”
In a replay of his defense before the ethics committee earlier this month, Traficant, 61, insisted that former Attorney Janet Reno and the Justice Department had been out to get him and manufactured evidence.
“I called Janet Reno a traitor and I believe she is,” he said. “Janet Reno, if I don’t go to jail I’ll be in Orlando Aug. 15 and you’re not going to be elected to anything,” he threatened. Reno is running for governor in Florida.
At another point, looking into the House chamber from behind a podium, he said: “I’m going to tell you something you’re not going to believe. I believe I won that trial. That trial was manipulated.” On several occasions, Traficant was warned to be careful with his language.
Despite earlier statements that he would put on a show, Traficant, one of the most outlandish members of the House, came dressed in a dark conservative suit and appeared almost melancholy.
At one point he poked fun at his reputation.
“Am I different? Yeah,” he said. “Have I changed my pants? No. Deep down you know you want to wear wider bottoms,” said Traficant, who wore suit pants with wide flares. “You’re just not secure enough to do it. Do I wear skinny ties? Yeah. Wide ties make me look heavy and I’m heavy enough already.”
In a bid to put off the vote to expel, Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, argued that there was enough doubt about Traficant’s guilt to wait until Congress returns in September. LaTourette noted that two jurors from the trial expressed doubts about his guilt after hearing about the ethics committee investigation. The House rejected his plea.
With Traficant’s Northeast Ohio district now unrepresented, Ohio Gov. Bob Taft has the choice of whether to call a special election to fill the congressional seat for the remainder of the year. A spokeswoman for Taft said the governor could decide this week whether to call a special primary and election, which would cost about $800,000.
The last member expelled was Rep. Michael Myers, a Pennsylvania Democrat who was ejected for accepting bribes in 1980. The previous three members expelled were thrown out for treason during the Civil War.