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Traficant expelled

By MARK BENJAMIN   |   July 24, 2002 at 10:36 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, July 24 (UPI) -- The House expelled one of its own from Congress late Wednesday, voting to remove Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio, from Congress, in only the second expulsion since the Civil War.

The House voted 420-1 to expel Traficant, the fifth time Congress has expelled another member in 213 years.

Traficant, allowed 45 minutes to defend himself on the House floor, said he was the target of federal prosecutors employing illegal tactics to pursue a vendetta against him, including pressuring witnesses to lie.

He remained defiant and insisted on his innocence.

"I'll go to jail, but I'll be damned if I'll be pressed by a government that pressured these witnesses," against him, Traficant said.

Traficant claimed to have tapes and affidavits on witnesses who testified against him in federal court this spring that would exonerate him. He also predicted he would run for Congress again from behind bars.

"Don't be surprised if I ... win behind bars," Traficant vowed. "The American people are afraid of their government."

Before the final vote, the House voted 285-146 against a motion by Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, to delay the expulsion vote until after Congress' August recess to give Traficant more time to appeal his federal conviction.

"A bell can not be unrung," Rep. Sonny Callahan, R-Ala., said in support of a delay.

Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif., cast the one vote in Traficant's favor in the end. Condit has faced intense public scrutiny over the killing of his alleged lover Chandra Levy.

Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., the chairman of the House Standards of Official Conduct Committee, said he introduced the resolution to remove Traficant with sadness, but that Traficant's illegal behavior was unbecoming of Congress.

"We do not take this lightly," Hefley said.

In comparison to the colorful language and eccentric behavior Traficant exhibited before a House ethics panel last week -- which voted unanimously to recommend expulsion -- Traficant was relatively subdued. He did not follow through on reported threats to wear a denim suit and "moonwalk" on the floor of the House. He limited his usually explicit references on the digestive track to one relatively obtuse joke about a soldier selecting dark brown trousers before battle to help disguise his fear.

He did refer to his sideburns and wig-like gray haircut as being done "with a weed whacker" and admitted his 70s-era trousers were unusual.

"Deep down, you know you want to wear wider bottoms, you are just not secure enough to do it," Traficant said to Congress.

Traficant is the first lawmaker booted out of the House since Rep. Ozzie Myers, D-Pa., was ejected in 1980 for taking bribes.

Traficant was convicted this spring on 10 counts of racketeering, bribery and tax evasion. The jury also ordered him to forfeit $96,000 in untoward gains. Last week, the unanimous House ethics panel backed a decision to expel Traficant from the House.

Deliberations in the House over when to schedule a vote on the nomination were up in the air this week, in part because one juror in Traficant's trial told the Cleveland Plan Dealer he is no longer sure about Traficant's guilt after watching testimony in the House ethics panel last week. Members agreed, however, they did not want Traficant serving Congress from federal prison during August. Traficant faces sentencing on July 30.

Ohio Republican Gov. Bob Taft can set a date for a special election to fill Traficant's spot.

"We don't enjoy what we are doing today," said Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas. "When we have to discipline ourselves, it is a task we try to avoid."

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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