Traficant Clings To Government Conspiracy Defense As He Wraps Up Ethics Case

By JESSE J. HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Confrontational to the end, Rep. James Traficant on Wednesday accused House ethics panel lawyers of lying, the federal government of a vendetta and the jury that convicted him of not liking him because of his attitude.

"I've been railroaded once and I'll be damned if I'll be railroaded again," Traficant shouted over the pounding gavel of House Ethics Chairman Joel Hefley, who tried futilely to get the flamboyant Ohio Democrat to calm down.

Traficant, convicted in April by a federal jury of bribery, tax evasion and racketeering, concluded his defense against House ethics violations with rants against people he accused of aligning themselves against him.

He complained bitterly to the eight-member panel about an FBI vendetta.

"You're looking at the No. 1 target of the Justice Department, and I hate those bastards, and I think that America's starting to hate them too," Traficant said.

Lawmakers are deciding whether Traficant (pictured, above) is guilty of accusations that he engaged in a "continuing pattern and practice of official misconduct" connected to the charges that he was found guilty of after a nine-week trial in Cleveland.

The panel will announce Thursday morning whether they have made a decision or need more time to deliberate, Hefley said.

Traficant, who has been abrasive to committee lawyers and panel members throughout the hearing, has indicated he expects to be found guilty again.

"God almighty here. What happened to me in Cleveland is what's happening to me here," Traficant shouted. "I infuriated a jury that convicted me over my attitude without a damn bit of evidence."

Prosecutors have recommended he serve at least 7-1/4 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for July 30.

Traficant, who is not a lawyer, defended himself both in court and before his peers against charges that he took kickbacks from employees, encouraged the destruction of evidence, solicited bribes and other gifts from businessmen and filed false income tax returns.

The 61-year-old Traficant insisted that all of the witnesses in the criminal trial lied and were forced to do so under threat of reprisal by the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service.

"The prosecutors said they never threatened the witnesses? That's bullschlep," Traficant said.

The nine-term lawmaker has complained about a government vendetta since he beat the FBI in a bribery case in 1983, also while defending himself. Traficant, who was a county sheriff at the time, used the victory to propel himself to Congress in 1984.

Committee lawyer Paul Lewis, in his closing statement, urged House members to use their common sense and find Traficant guilty.

He called Traficant's actions "repeated, ongoing, knowing and deliberate."

Lewis enraged Traficant when he began talking about the witness testimony in the trial. Traficant began to object.

"This is not a time for objections, Mr. Traficant," Hefley said, pounding with his gavel.

"I'm going to object, whether it's committee rules or not," said Traficant. He got out of his chair and stalked angrily toward the committee's lawyers.

"I will not have him lie here!" Traficant shouted.

Hefley, R-Colo., finally calmed Traficant down by threatening to take the hearing behind closed doors.

"Would you like the hearing closed?" he asked.

"No, not really," Traficant said.

"So, sit down and let Mr. Lewis complete his testimony," Hefley said.

If the committee finds that he violated House rules, lawmakers would decide at a separate hearing whether to recommend that Traficant become the second congressman since the Civil War to be expelled from Congress.

Traficant said he plans on dressing in a denim suit and doing a "Michael Jackson moonwalk" on the House floor when it comes time to defend himself in front of the full 435-member House.

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