Traficant gets ready to go on the air and on to court
By PATRICIA MEADE
and DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITERS
YOUNGSTOWN -- When indicted U.S. Rep James A. Traficant Jr. takes to the airwaves on WKBN-AM to play radio host later this month, he'll likely find protesters outside the studio.
Traficant of Poland, D-17th, has agreed to fill in for popular talk-show host Dan Ryan from May 29 to June 1. The 60-year-old ninth-term congressman said C-SPAN and Fox News Channel may cover at least the first day's program.
"I will be taking no reporters' questions at that time. I will control the agenda and if anybody doesn't like that -- be damned," Traficant said Friday as he left U.S. District Court after his arraignment on a 10-count indictment. "I'll drive my own train."
One community leader questioning Traficant's radio show is Bill Lawson, chairman of the good government task force of ACTION -- Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods.
"I don't understand why he would have access for free to commercially licensed radio waves to push his agenda when nobody else that I know in this community would have the same access unless they paid for the air time,'' Lawson said. "Is the Congressman a radio personality or a public official?" he asked.
As to whether ACTION will picket WKBN when Traficant appears, Lawson said, "We are considering a response to this issue, and we have no plans that we've activated as of now."
Some callers to the radio station have complained that Traficant, who intends to launch an on-air attack on the Justice Department, is out to poison the jury pool. His trial on bribery, racketeering and tax charges has been set for Feb. 4, 2002, in Cleveland.
A protest planned: Samuel M. Moffie of Boardman, an unsuccessful Mahoning County commissioner candidate last year, said he is organizing a protest outside the Clear Channel Communications building on South Avenue in Boardman. WKBN-AM is owned by Clear Channel.
"The protest is aimed first and foremost at Clear Channel because they are doing a great disservice to the community by allowing [Traficant] to spew his venom without having to answer tough questions," he said.
"Clear Channel doesn't need the ratings. They own practically all the stations here anyway."
Moffie, who was a Traficant ally and contributor until the two had a political falling-out last year, said he has received good response from people interested in joining him for the protest. The protest would begin May 29, the first day Traficant takes to the WKBN airwaves.
Bill Kelly, Clear Channel's vice president and marketing manager for this area, said everyone has a right to protest.
"What can you say to that?" Kelly said about the protests. "The country was built on protests."
Clear Channel has received numerous telephone calls from people about the Traficant four-day appearance, most of which are in favor of letting the congressman be host of the show, Kelly said.
Show host's view: Ryan criticized his company's management Thursday for permitting the congressman to fill in for him. Ryan said his company is giving Traficant a "free ride" and is having the indicted congressman as host strictly for ratings.
"We've actually had as much or more in favor of the appearance especially since Dan Ryan's broadcast," Kelly said. "People feel that while they may disagree with Traficant, he has the right to be heard."
Traficant pleaded innocent Friday in federal court and remains free on a $50,000 signature bond. U.S. District Judge Lesley B. Wells had no success in trying to persuade the nonlawyer to give up his desire to represent himself.
At one point, in response to the repetition of her inquiries, he became testy and said: "You've asked me that nine times." With that, the judge concluded he had made his decision "knowingly and intelligently."
Federal Prosecutors Craig S. Morford, Bernard A. Smith and Matthew B. Kall said in a motion that the congressman has the constitutional right to be his own lawyer, but such action is fraught with danger.
They wanted to make sure that Traficant's decision was on the record to avoid appellate issues down the road.
Thanked prosecutors: Before the hearing and during a recess, Traficant thanked prosecutors for issuing him a summons and not arresting him. "You could have made a spectacle out of it," he told them.
Traficant, looking as if he'd stepped out of a 1973 clothing ad, wore a snug dark-blue suit jacket, black bell-bottom pants, white shirt and dark, narrow tie. He kept referring to his 1983 federal bribery trial. He reminded the judge that he beat those charges acting as his own lawyer.
She said she was aware of that and asked if he'd represented himself since then.
"Yes, I have," he said, "in a kangaroo court civil tax case."
The case: In that case, Traficant was found guilty of not claiming on his tax returns the mob money he took when he was a Mahoning County sheriff candidate in 1980. He's been paying the IRS ever since and still owes between $15,000 and $50,000, according to his financial disclosure statement.
Throughout the hearing, Traficant was his bombastic self and ignored the decorum typically seen in federal court. He cut the judge off several times to interject his concerns, sometimes going far afield. She cut him off, too, to keep things back on track.
Judge Wells warned Traficant that if he takes the witness stand, he cannot just sit there and testify about his case -- he must ask himself questions and then answer each question. He said he understood.
Could replace him: Judge Wells said that if the need arises, she may appoint standby counsel or replace him altogether. The judge said she has handled other cases in which the defendant served as his own attorney and she never had to replace them. She stressed that she doesn't permit abusive behavior and when he asked for a clarification, she said he'd know it when he saw it.
He said it sounded like she was trying "behavior modification," and that the judge was concerned that his "style" would make a carnival in her courtroom.
"Not at all," Judge Wells said, explaining that she looks forward to a good fair trial, but has the responsibility to lay ground rules.
Prosecutors said documents collected as evidence fill 100 boxes, which will be copied and turned over to Traficant within 30 days.
He had wanted grand jury testimony but the judge said it is "sacrosanct" and released only under certain circumstances. The challenge is up to him.