House Leader Says Traficant Should Resign; Others Saddened

By MALIA RULON, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. publicly insulted the House minority leader after he called for the Ohio Democrat to resign because of his conviction for racketeering, bribery, kickbacks and fraud.

Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., said Traficant had brought discredit to the House and broken the public's trust.

"In light of the gravity of the charges outlined in the guilty verdict against Mr. Traficant, I think the prudent course of action would be an immediate resignation," Gephardt said Thursday.

Speaking outside the federal courthouse in Cleveland, Traficant told reporters he would not resign and questioned Gephardt's manhood in statements that were laced with profanities.

"If Gephardt's making statements like this, I think Gephardt should look at the Constitution a little bit first," Traficant said.

Traficant, a nine-term congressman, was convicted Thursday on all of the 10 charges he faced. He could be sentenced to prison and be expelled from Congress.

House Ethics Committee Chairman Joel Hefley, R-Colo., said the panel would meet to consider discipline. It is expected to meet next week.

Traficant last year defected from his party and voted to re-elect Republican Dennis Hastert as House speaker, abandoning Gephardt.

"Mr. Gephardt still probably hasn't gotten over the fact that Traficant didn't vote for him as speaker of the House," said Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio. "Mr. Gephardt should afford to Traficant the same due process he would want should he find himself in a similar situation."

LaTourette, who is a member of the ethics committee, said he was unsure whether he would participate in the investigation of his close friend.

"I haven't reached the conclusion that I cannot be fair," he said. "If I reach that conclusion, then I will excuse myself."

Members of the Ohio delegation cautioned against taking immediate action against Traficant.

"There's plenty of time for a thoughtful, diligent process to take place. There's no reason for us to rush to a decision here," said Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio.

On Friday, Traficant said that he would appeal despite the fact that after the verdict, he said that he didn't think he had much of a chance on appeal. He said that he would again represent himself.

Expulsion, the most severe punishment, would require the approval of two-thirds of the 435-member House.

"The House can expel any member at any time (but) the guy is entitled to due process," said Rep. Dave Hobson, R-Ohio. "Whatever happens, it's difficult for him, it's difficult for his family, it's difficult for Congress."

Meanwhile, Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a member of the House Democratic leadership, said if Traficant runs for re-election against Democrat Rep. Tom Sawyer, "we'll be very supportive of Mr. Sawyer."

Sawyer said he felt bad for Traficant, his family and the communities that were let down but he believes that Traficant's constituents will want to elect someone who represents a new direction for the 17th District.

The Republican candidate in the race, state Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin, said the guilty verdict doesn't change how she will campaign against Sawyer and possibly Traficant, who earlier said he would run as an independent.

"I'm a practicing attorney and I've always put a lot of faith in the judicial system and in the work of juries, so I will certainly for the time being trust their judgment on this one," said Womer Benjamin, who was in Washington on Thursday talking to GOP lawmakers.

Traficant spokesman Charles Straub said he and the rest of Traficant's staff were disappointed and saddened by the verdict.

"I was very much looking forward to him coming back to Washington and running for re-election," he said. "There are things more important today than any of that. My concern is for his future and the fate of the staff."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)