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House votes to expel traficant { July 25 2002 }

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   http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A53279-2002Jul23.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A53279-2002Jul23.html

House Votes 420 to 1 To Expel Traficant


By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 25, 2002; Page A01


The House voted overwhelmingly last night to expel Rep. James A. Traficant, an Ohio Democrat who taunted foes for years with bombastic floor speeches but now faces a likely prison term on felony convictions for bribery and corruption.

Traficant, scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday, became only the second House member since Reconstruction to be expelled. The House ousted Rep. Michael "Ozzie" Myers in 1980 for accepting money from an FBI agent posing as an Arab sheik.

While most lawmakers facing expulsion have chosen to resign, Traficant fought his political death sentence until the end.

"I'll go to jail before I'll resign and admit something I didn't do," Traficant said. "I'll be damned if I'll be pressured by a government that pressured these witnesses to death."

Traficant walked out of the chamber before the House voted 420 to 1 to oust him, with nine voting present. Rep. Gary A. Condit (D-Calif.), who lost his primary this year after revelations surfaced concerning his relationship with slain intern Chandra Levy, was the only member to vote against expulsion.

Known for his spiky gray hair, an outdated polyester wardrobe and floor speeches littered with references to "Star Trek" and his anatomy, the nine-term House member railed against the government and the Washington establishment during the three-hour debate.

Describing himself as the government's "number one target," he accused the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service of trying to frame him. "They have more tapes on me than NBC. I did nothing wrong," he said.

But members of the House ethics committee, which unanimously recommended expulsion last week, said the extensive evidence that prosecutors presented in Traficant's federal trial in Cleveland last spring left his colleagues little choice. Former aides and business associates testified they gave the House member kickbacks, as well as free labor to fix up his farm and boat, in exchange for government jobs and legislative favors.

Rep. Gene Green (D-Tex.) called Traficant's behavior "outrageous and unlawful." Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) was equally unsparing. "We come here in the public good, not to enrich ourselves for private profit," he said.

Hundreds of Traficant's colleagues sat silently during the debate over his fate, laughing only when the lawmaker made jokes at his own expense.

"Am I different? Yeah," he said. "Deep down, you know you want to wear wider bottoms; you're just not secure enough. . . . Do I do my hair with a Weed Whacker? I admit."

But most of Traficant's comments were bitter as he complained about powerful government forces arrayed against him. He suggested that his attempt to reform the IRS and his attacks on then-Attorney General Janet Reno's refusal to investigate illegal Chinese contributions to the Democratic Party prompted a wide-ranging probe into his activities.

He threatened to derail Reno's gubernatorial bid, saying if he wasn't in jail when Florida held its Democratic primary next month, he would show up in Orlando to ensure she wasn't "going to be elected to any damn thing." At another point, he accused an FBI agent by name of raping one of his constituents, prompting Rep. James V. Hansen (R-Utah) to chastise him for cursing.

"The gentleman will avoid profanity or indecent language," Hansen said.

"How much time do I have left?" Traficant replied.

When he wasn't speechifying, Traficant worked the floor, hoping to drum up enough support to save his seat. But members of the ethics committee continued to push for his expulsion.

"Whether we like it or not, in recent years too many Americans have come to believe that holding high office means you get to play by different rules," Rep. Richard Hastings (R-Wash.) said. "Nothing could be more dangerous to our democracy, and we simply cannot allow that perception to grow unchecked."

Despite his recent legal troubles, Traficant, 61, continued to draw fans on Capitol Hill. A truck driver's son, he styled himself as the average American's champion and the bureaucrat's foe.

He first won election in 1984 by tapping voters' mistrust of government, having defended himself against charges of accepting $163,000 in bribes from organized-crime figures. (A sheriff at the time, Traficant said he was conducting a one-man sting operation.)

Traficant was unabashed in his drive for federal dollars for his district, telling the ethics panel he aided local businessmen only in an attempt to create jobs. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio) said of his friend yesterday: "At the end of the day, whether he's as crooked as a dog's hind leg or straight as an arrow, no one can take away from him the fact that he was effective in bringing bacon home to the Mahoning Valley, which needed bacon brought home."

The House member alluded to his reputation as a pork-barreler last night on his way to the expulsion vote as he passed the House Appropriations Committee room. "I still want appropriations for that 17th District or I'll come here out of that jail and get you," he said as reporters trailed him.

House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) told reporters Tuesday that as he chaired homeland security hearings last week, he was secretly wishing he could watch Traficant defend himself before the ethics committee on C-SPAN.

"I always said when I write the book, 'Characters I Knew in Congress,' he's going to be the first chapter," Armey said.

Many Democrats felt less kindly toward Traficant, who broke with his party last year by voting to install Republican J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.) as speaker over Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.). Traficant kept his party affiliation, but Democrats refused to give him a committee assignment, forcing him to rely instead on GOP leaders for any legislative perks.



2002 The Washington Post Company


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