Traficant Seat In Congress To Remain Vacant

By MALIA RULON, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - After nearly two decades of often outrageous, usually entertaining and never boring behavior, Ohio Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. exited the Capitol stage in defeat, taking his place in history as only the fifth House member to be expelled.

The anti-climatic 420-1 vote that ejected the nine-term congressman for taking bribes and kickbacks took just minutes Wednesday night. In that time, the maverick Democrat went from being a congressman with privileges and responsibilities to an ordinary citizen in his former district.

"I'm prepared to lose everything. I'm prepared to go to jail. You go ahead and expel me," he told his colleagues defiantly, maintaining his innocence and claiming that government prosecutors coerced witnesses to lie in order to convict him.

All but Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif., who was defeated in a primary for re-election, ignored his plea. Condit, who had been romantically linked with Chandra Levy, a government intern who was murdered, voted against Traficant's expulsion.

Traficant's seat will go unfilled for the rest of the year.

Republican Ohio Gov. Bob Taft said Thursday the state would not hold a special election because it would cost the blue-collar district as much as $800,000 to elect a congressman who would serve for just a few weeks.

Traficant, 61, faces sentencing Tuesday for his federal jury conviction on 10 counts of bribery, racketeering and tax evasion.

Prosecutors want him taken into custody at sentencing and for him to serve 7¼ years in prison. He is expected to appeal.

From the blue and gold carpeted House floor, where his colorful tirades against the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and what he viewed as government inanities became a daily fixture, Traficant used his final remarks to plead with colleagues to reconsider.

"My people elected me and I don't think you should take their representative away," he said. But he added, "Vote your conscience. Nothing personal. I hope I'm back."

Traficant is seeking re-election this fall as an independent.

During Traficant's meandering, 45-minute statement Wednesday night, dozens of House members sat attentively in their seats, and the usually bustling chamber was quiet. 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 during his 18-year House career, Traficant even drew some subdued chuckles from lawmakers when he quipped about using a "weed whacker" 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 using profanity during his defense.

But 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., a member of the House ethics committee.

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."

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. In its 213-year history, the House has expelled just three other members, all for treason during the Civil War.

"None of us ever want to sit in judgment of our peers," said Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., chairman of the House ethics committee. "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."

Although he is not a lawyer, Traficant defended himself both during his nine-week trial in Cleveland and in front of the House ethics panel last week.

On the expulsion vote, nine House members voted present: Reps. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.; Michael Bilirakis, R-Fla.; Sonny Callahan, R-Ala.; Harold Ford Jr., D-Tenn.; John Hostettler, R-Ind.; C.L. Otter, R-Idaho; Ron Paul, R-Texas; Mike Simpson, R-Idaho; and Don Young, R-Alaska.

Not voting were Reps. Dave Bonior, D-Mich; Joseph Knollenberg, R-Mich., Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.; and Traficant.

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