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House votes 420-1 to expel Traficant

For only the second time since the Civil War, the House of Representatives expelled a member from its ranks, voting 420-1 Wednesday to eject Rep. Jim Traficant for official misconduct.

The vote removes from the House one of its most colorful and whimsical members, an Ohio Democrat known for his bad hair and 1970s-style gabardine suits who frequently railed against law enforcement agencies, the IRS, free trade and foreign aid.

The lone vote to keep Traficant was Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif., who was questioned in the death of Chandra Levy.

"Beam me up!" he would say at the end of his House speeches, a phrase from the Star Trek television series meant to convey his dismay at whatever government outrage he had just been inveighing against.

Wednesday's historic House vote came after a federal jury convicted Traficant in April on 10 bribery, corruption and racketeering counts. A House ethics panel then conducted its own investigation, voting unanimously last week to find Traficant guilty on nine counts of violating government ethics rules.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, as the ethics panel is formally known, recommended expulsion rather than lesser penalties such as censure or reprimand because of "the gravity of the offense from the gentleman from Ohio," said Rep. Howard Berman of California, the top Democrat on the panel.

The ethics committee, exploring much of the same evidence as the jurors in Cleveland had in April, found Traficant guilty of taking a $2,500-a-month kickback from one of his congressional employees and then asking the staffer to destroy evidence sought by prosecutors.

The panel said Traficant had accepted money and gratuities from an aerospace company executive who sought his help securing government certification for his firm's laser-guided aircraft landing technology.

And, among other charges, the panel said Traficant used his official influence to steer government business to two contractors who had done work on his horse farm in lieu of payments for their work.

The committee's burden of proof was to find "clear and convincing" evidence of the offenses, a lower standard than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" required of federal jurors.

Before the expulsion vote, the House defeated 285-146 a motion by Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, to delay consideration of Traficant's case until Sept. 4. LaTourette argued the House vote should wait at least until after Traficant's July 30 sentencing.

LaTourette said another reason to delay was to give Traficant time to pursue his allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. Traficant has claimed prosecutors coerced witnesses to testify against him at trial.

Many Republicans spoke in favor of delay, most citing the need to vet the government's actions. "I don't see the need to rush to judgment," said Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

No Democrats spoke in favor of delay.

Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, a member of the ethics committee, reminded lawmakers that the House has the power to police the conduct of its own members, regardless of what happens in federal court.

"We're not a jury. We're not a criminal court," said Tubbs Jones. "We are in the court of public opinion."

In voting to expel, most House members supported the view of Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo., who called Traficant a "clever criminal who has enriched himself at taxpayers' expense."

Traficant defended himself in a rambling 45-minute speech to the House. He spoke in minute detail of the case against him, mentioning at various points something about a woman who had had her leg amputated and telling a confusing story about his trial judge's alleged conflicts of interest.

Many lawmakers listened with bored expressions, clearly not following his sputtering narrative.

"I will go to jail before I will resign and admit to something I didn't do," Traficant said, in what appeared to be his main point.

Before the vote, Traficant circulated quietly on the House floor, shaking hands with those soon-to-be-former colleagues who would accept his extended palm. He did not enter doing a Michael Jackson-like "moonwalk," as he had mused about doing in an earlier interview.

He wore a dark suit, not the yellow or orange stretch pants he often donned as a House member, and had to be admonished only once from the presiding officer not to use profane language.

Traficant, 61, represented Youngstown, Ohio, a once-proud steel capital now more prominent for its links to organized crime.

In the early 1980s, when Traficant was sheriff of Mahoning County, he was acquitted of taking bribes from the mob. Representing himself, Traficant managed to convince a jury he'd actually been conducting a one-man sting operation against the Mafia.

He went on to win election to Congress in 1984, although the Internal Revenue Service garnisheed his wages for not paying taxes on the bribes he was acquitted of taking.

As a congressman, Traficant expressed disdain of all law enforcement officials and once called then-Attorney General Janet Reno a "lesbian drunk."

In 2000, as federal prosecutors worked to build a new case against the congressman for corruption, he told a reporter, "Why would you want to do a piece on a jacka-- like me? Though I am at the zenith of my jacka--hood, I want you to know."

Embarrassed Democrats treated Traficant like a nasty bit of chewing gum they couldn't get off their shoes. He fired back, voting last year for Illinois Republican Dennis Hastert for speaker.

As a Democrat, Traficant was expected to cast a symbolic vote for Minority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri for speaker. His support for Hastert suggested he intended to bolster the GOP's slim five-vote majority, giving Gephardt less room to maneuver in future legislative battles.

An angry Gephardt responded by taking away Traficant's committee assignments.

In its 213-year history, the House has only expelled four members. Three were congressmen accused of treason during the Civil War. The other, Rep. Michael Myers, D-Pa., was ejected in 1980 for accepting bribes in the Abscam scandal.



Violations of House ethics rules by Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio, as determined by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct:

COUNT ONE: Receiving from Anthony Bucci, Robert Bucci and companies in their control free labor and materials for his horse farm in exchange for his using his official influence on their behalf.

COUNT TWO: Accepting free labor and materials from Honey Creek Contracting Co. and its owner, Arthur Sugar, in return for several favors.

COUNT THREE: Accepting numerous meals, use of automobiles and money for repairs to his boat from John Cafaro, whose U.S. Aerospace Group was seeking Traficant's help in seeking Federal Aviation Administration certification of the company's laser-guided aircraft landing technology.

COUNTS FOUR AND FIVE: Hiring on his congressional staff Allen Sinclair in exchange for favors, including preferential rental rates for office space and kickbacks of $2,500 from Sinclair's monthly congressional paychecks.

COUNT SIX: Trying to persuade Sinclair to destroy evidence and provide false testimony to a federal grand jury.

COUNT SEVEN: Requiring his congressional staff in Washington to maintain and repair his personal boat and directing members of his congressional staff in Ohio to perform work at his farm.

COUNTS EIGHT AND NINE: Reporting with his wife to the IRS income of $138,985 in 1998 and $140,163 in 1999 when the amount was substantially greater.

A 10th count alleging Traficant engaged in an ongoing pattern of behavior through mail fraud related to the other counts was dismissed.

Others expelled from Congress

+ Rep. John B. Clark, D-Mo., in 1861, for taking up arms against the government of the United States. Clark served as a brigadier general for the Confederacy and a representative to the Confederate Congress during the Civil War. His son, John B. Clark Jr., served two terms in Congress.

+ Rep. John W. Reid, D-Mo., in 1861, for taking up arms against the government of the United States. Reid was a volunteer aide to Confederate Gen. Sterling Price during the Civil War. He resumed a law practice and banking career.

+ Rep. Henry C. Burnett, D-Ky., in 1861, for supporting secession by the Confederate States of America. He served as a colonel for the Confederacy and as a representative to the Confederate Congress.

+ Rep. Michael "Ozzie" Myers, D-Pa., in 1980, for accepting money from FBI agents posing as Arab sheiks seeking favors from Congress in the Abscam scandal. He was convicted on bribery and conspiracy charges, served 20{ months in prison and was released in 1985. Myers, 59, works as a building contractor.

James A. Traficant Jr.

AGE, BIRTH DATE: 61; May 8, 1941.

EDUCATION: Master's in counseling, Youngstown State University, 1976; master's in administration, Youngstown State University, 1973; bachelor's in education, University of Pittsburgh, 1963.

EXPERIENCE: Re-elected November 2000 to his ninth term in Congress representing Ohio's 17th District. Only member of the House without a committee assignment, as House Democrats denied him a seat after he voted for Republican Dennis Hastert as speaker. Mahoning County, Ohio, sheriff 1980-1984.

PERSONAL: Wife, Patricia; two daughters.