By JESSE J. HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - The House on Wednesday expelled Ohio Rep. James Traficant for taking bribes and kickbacks, only the second time since the Civil War that it has removed a sitting member for unethical conduct.
Representatives voted 420-1 to immediately banish the nine-term Democrat (pictured at podium in House chamber, above) after a federal jury in Cleveland convicted him and a House ethic panel recommended his removal. Nine lawmakers voted present.
Traficant, 61, was defiant to the end.
"I'm prepared to lose everything. I'm prepared to go to jail. You go ahead and expel me," he said, maintaining his innocence and claiming that government prosecutors coerced witnesses to lie in order to win the court convictions against him.
In his final plea, the House veteran of nearly 18 years told his colleagues, "My people elected me and I don't think you should take their representative away." But he added, "Vote your conscience. Nothing personal. I hope I'm back."
Only Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif., who was defeated in a primary for re-election after he was romantically linked with Chandra Levy, a government intern who was murdered, voted against Traficant's expulsion.
"None of us ever want to sit in judgment of our peers," said Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., chairman of the House ethics committee that recommended Traficant's expulsion. "There are some unique occasions, however, when the behavior of an elected official violates the public trust to such an extent that we are called upon to uphold this provision."
House ethic watchdogs condemned Traficant, saying the evidence against him was overwhelming.
"He traded his official office and powers repeatedly for money, for labor, for equipment at his farm and other things," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., another member of the ethics panel.
Rep. Howard Berman of California, the panel's senior Democrat said not expelling Traficant "in the face of the vast evidence spread out in the record is to say a member can behave as he has and retain membership in this institution. That cannot be our message."
Dozens of House members sat attentively in their seats, and the usually bustling chamber was quiet as Traficant argued that there was no physical evidence against him, accused the judge in his criminal trial of corruption and said government prosecutors had a vendetta against him.
Known for his flashy clothes, wild hair and arm-waving theatrical rants against government prosecutors and tax collectors, Traficant even drew some subdued chuckles from lawmakers when he quipped about using a "Weed Wacker" to cut his hair and referred to his '70s-style bell-bottom trousers.
Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, presiding over the rare House expulsion proceedings, admonished Traficant more than once for uttering curse words during his defense.
Rep. Steven LaTourette, a member of the House ethics committee, sought to delay the vote until Sept. 4 to allow for legal maneuvering in Traficant's case to unfold. "You want to kick Jim Traficant out of Congress, you can still do it" in the fall, the Ohio Republican said.
But his effort failed 285-146.
"I feel like there's an elephant beneath my ascot," Traficant said as he walked over to the House chamber, just before Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., turned the House's attention to the resolution on expelling the Ohio congressman.
The House allocated Traficant 45 minutes to make his case on the House floor before his congressional colleagues voted on his fate. It takes two-thirds of the voting members of the 435-member House to approve expulsion.
Traficant, 61, has insisted on his innocence since his conviction on 10 counts of racketeering, bribery and tax evasion.
Portraying himself as the victim of a government vendetta, he has claimed repeatedly that witnesses in his trial lied under threats of reprisal from the Justice Department, FBI and Internal Revenue Service.
Although he is not a lawyer, Traficant defended himself both during his nine-week trial in Cleveland and in front of the House ethics committee last week.
Federal prosecutors have recommended Traficant serve at least 7¼ years in prison on the criminal charges. Sentencing is scheduled for Tuesday.
Despite his Democrat label, Traficant has few allies in his party. For years, he has angered fellow Democrats by voting with Republicans on many bills and helping to elect Republican Dennis Hastert as speaker. His district was cut up in the Ohio reapportionment, and he was the only House member this year without a committee assignment.
The last time the House expelled a member was in 1980, when Rep. Michael Myers, D-Pa., was kicked out for accepting bribes from FBI agents posing as Arab sheiks trying to change immigration law.
In its 213-year history, the House has expelled just four members, including three who were charged with treason during the Civil War.