WASHINGTON (AP) - Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.'s tirade before the House ethics committee on Monday drew both laughter and gasps as the cantankerous Ohio congressman's wild accusations took center stage.
Traficant, 61, made himself right at home in the stately House hearing room crowded with photographers, congressional staff, a few Ohioans and local residents.
"Are all those volumes your evidence?" he asked the committee counsel, gesturing to several large three-ring binders, boxes and charts leaning up against a table.
"Well, you know what you can do with it, don't you?" he teased.
Looking around the room, Traficant (pictured, above) brushed off questions from reporters and told the photographers that taking his picture was against House rules and "get out of my face."
Traficant's latest public tirade, broadcast live on C-SPAN, comes as the committee decides whether to recommend that he be expelled from Congress. Traficant was convicted earlier this year in a Cleveland federal court for accepting cash kickbacks and forcing his staff to work on his Ohio horse farm. The nine-term congressman from the northeast Ohio district around Youngstown continued to maintain his innocence.
"I never forced anyone to do anything. I am an American and I have friends and my friends can help me out," said the maverick congressman known for his wild hair and colorful wardrobe.
One audience member from San Francisco said he has followed Traficant's trial in the media and wanted to see firsthand how the congressional process works.
"It's just a matter that nobody should be above the law," said Ravi Subramanian, a Washington tourist who sat in on part of the hearing.
Uttering his trademark phrase "beam me up," Traficant punctuated his opening statement Monday with wild gesturing, obscenities and references to gastrointestinal problems: "If in fart ... fact. Freudian slip. What was that word? Rhymes with 'smart'?"
He also used the hearing as a way to inform the public about some of his favorite subjects, including his criticism of the FBI and former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.
"I am facing probably 100 years in prison and $3 million in fines based on hearsay," he said, begging the panel to use congressional courtesy to allow him to present witnesses in his defense -- people who were banned from his Cleveland trial.
Also during the hearing, Traficant addressed the two Ohioans serving on the panel, Reps. Steven LaTourette, a Republican from Madison, and Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a Democrat from Cleveland.
He thanked LaTourette for making a motion at the start of the hearing to clarify Ohio wiretapping laws and their relevance to the admissibility of taped evidence. He then joked about an endorsement he made of Tubbs Jones for the Ohio Supreme Court.
On his way out of the courtroom, Traficant gave a friend from Youngstown a bear hug, thanking her for being there.
"The only reason I am here is so that he sees a friendly face," said Diane Murphy, an English teacher who drove to Washington from Youngstown. Murphy regularly attended Traficant's 10-week trial.
"He's a good man. There are thousands of people who adore him in Youngstown," she said.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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