It's probably safe to say there have been few congressmen in the same league as James Traficant.
The Democrat from Poland, Ohio, known for his bluster, bad haircut and ill-fitting suits along with minutelong speeches to an empty chamber that ended with "beam me up," will make what is expected to be his last, 30-minute stand before his peers Wednesday as he fights expulsion a scant week before he is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in Cleveland.
Traficant was convicted in April on federal racketeering and other charges for accepting bribes and kickbacks. The congressman, who is not a lawyer, defended himself, railing against U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells for being unfair because she would not allow him to present everything he wanted to present to the jury.
During his presentation to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, such legal limits were not imposed and Traficant made the most of it. Alas, it did not stop the ethics panel from voting unanimously for his ouster and recommending the full House do the same.
And Traficant plans to make the House do it. He has sworn he will not resign and plans to campaign for re-election as an independent in a redrawn district -- even if it's from a prison cell. He hopes to become the first congressman to serve his term from prison.
"I can run," he said. "I can operate and function as effectively as any member of Congress behind bars. I will take with me a file, a chisel, a knife. I'll try and get some major explosives, try and fight my way out."
Apparently his continued protestations of innocence are making headway -- at least at home.
One of the jurors who voted to convict Traficant told the Cleveland Plain Dealer during the weekend he's changed his mind about the congressman's guilt.
"I know it's after the fact, but now I believe that there's no doubt that the government was out to get him and if they want you, they'll find enough evidence to make you believe that the Earth is flat," Leo Glaser of Independence, Ohio, told the newspaper.
What convinced Glaser were remarks by Richard Detore, a Virginia executive who goes on trial for allegedly bribing Traficant. Detore did not testify at Traficant's trial, but last week told the ethics committee he never tried to bribe Traficant and Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Morford urged him to fabricate something. Morford has denied any improper conduct.
Traficant, the 61-year-old son of a truck driver, has spent 18 years in Congress, first elected on a wave of support following his 1983 acquittal on charges of accepting $163,000 in bribes from organized crime figures in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. At the time, Traficant was sheriff of Mahoning County and argued he was conducting his own undercover investigation.
Since then, Traficant has said, he has been the target of federal investigators and it is unlikely he will go gently into the night.
"I'm sure as hell not resigning because there was never any intent to break the law," he said.
Last week, Traficant accused the ethics panel of conducting a witch hunt and mooned its members -- flipping up his suit coat but leaving his trousers up.
Congressmen don't like to have to discipline a colleague and if he is expelled, Traficant will be only the second since the Civil War -- only the fifth since the birth of the republic. The last expulsion was in 1980 -- that of Rep. Michael "Ozzie" Myers, D-Pa., who was involved in the Abscam scandal and caught on tape accepting money from what he thought was an Arab sheik. The other three were expelled for traitorous conduct during the Civil War. Other congressmen who were convicted of crimes simply resigned rather than face expulsion.
Expulsion will require 290 votes of 435 -- two-thirds of the Representatives in Congress. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said he would be surprised if there are 10 votes against Traficant's expulsion.
"When I walk on the floor for the final execution, I'll wear a denim suit," Traficant said. "I'll walk in there like Willie Nelson, John Wayne, Will Smith, Men in Black, James Brown. Maybe do a Michael Jackson moonwalk."