Friday, July 19, 2002

House panel votes to expel Traficant

Full House decides next

By Jesse J. Holland
The Associated Press

        WASHINGTON - Ohio Rep. James Traficant should be expelled from the House for ethics violations stemming from his bribery, tax evasion and fraud conviction, a House committee decided unanimously Thursday.

        The full House now will have to vote on whether to accept the recommendation from the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. Expulsion requires the approval of two-thirds of the 435-member House.

        If expelled, the nine-term congressman would become only the second member of Congress to be kicked out since the Civil War.

        The House could vote as early as next week, officials said.

        The only member ousted since the Civil War was Rep. Michael Myers, D-Pa., who was expelled in 1980 for accepting money from undercover FBI agents posing as Arab sheiks seeking favors from Congress in the Abscam investigation.

        The last time the House ethics committee recommended expulsion for a member was in 1988, when it unanimously suggested that Rep. Mario Biaggi, D-N.Y., be kicked out after his conviction for racketeering, extortion, bribery and other charges. He resigned before the House could vote him out.

        Like Mr. Myers, Mr. Traficant will get at least 30 minutes to defend himself in front of the House before the vote. The always-flamboyant congressman has threatened to wear a denim suit and do a “Michael Jackson moonwalk” on the House floor when his time comes to defend himself.

        Mr. Traficant, who has insisted on his innocence and complained bitterly about what he called a government vendetta against him, anticipated the worst from the 10-member House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

        While professing his innocence, Mr. Traficant said he expected to be expelled “because I think Congress does not like difficult positions.”

        Mr. Traficant complained bitterly about what he called a government vendetta against him, as well as alleged misconduct by the federal courts and the Justice Department.

        “I've broke no laws. If you expel me, I will go down in history as an expelled member,” said Mr. Traficant, who wore a rumpled Western-style white denim suit with a blue denim shirt in front of the committee. “But you know what, I have a very clear conscience. I am proud to be an American. I hate the government but I love America.”

        Mr. Traficant told the committee that he has appeals of his conviction pending. “You could possibly expel a member that gets a new trial and make you look like a bunch of fools,” he said.

        “If I am to be expelled under these circumstances, then God save the republic and God save the Constitution,” Mr. Traficant said in impromptu news conference before the penalty phase of the hearing began.

        The ethics committee's lawyer, Robert Walker, said Mr. Traficant's conviction and ethic violations were crimes of “the most serious nature.”

        “These violations unequivocally call for only one response from you, a recommendation that the House expel Rep. Traficant,” Mr. Walker said.

        An eight-member subcommittee of the ethics panel found Mr. Traficant guilty of nine of the 10 ethics violations connected to his conviction in federal court.

        Federal prosecutors have recommended Mr. Traficant serve at least 7
       years in prison on the criminal charges. Sentencing is scheduled for July 30.

        The 61-year-old Mr. Traficant, who is not a lawyer, represented himself in court and before the panel against charges that he took kickbacks from employees, encouraged the destruction of evidence, solicited bribes and other gifts from businessmen and filed false income tax returns.


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