The House ethics committee warned the congressman not to vote.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
and PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITERS
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mr. Traficant does not go to Washington -- at least for a week.
Instead, U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., convicted last week by a federal jury on 10 felony counts, took to the airwaves this morning. Y-103's morning show today was the congressman's first public appearance since Thursday's verdict.
Since then, Traficant, a Poland Democrat, has reverted to having his spokesman in Washington speak for him. During his 10-week racketeering trial, he spoke to reporters twice daily, before and after court.
Radio show host Scott Kennedy welcomed the congressman to the studio at 7:18 a.m.
"I could be doing better," Traficant said.
Blames judge for defeat
He described the trial as an unusual case because he was defeated not by a prosecutor but by U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells. He said the judge forced nine of his witnesses to testify outside the presence of a jury and she would not allow nine audiotapes into evidence.
The congressman said that the jury did not like his disrespect toward the judge but that he was frustrated when she would not let in his evidence. The judge, he said, was an extension of the government. He said he wasn't convicted by the witnesses, he was convicted by the judge.
It "frosts my a--," he added.
The judge, Traficant said, wouldnot allow him to use his vendetta theory as a defense.
Regarding the resumption of his congressional duties, Traficant said he has no plans to return to Washington, D.C., this week.
Traficant said he can better serve the Mahoning Valley from his home than anyone else could from Capitol Hill. The congressman said if he is expelled, then the district has no one at all.
The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, more commonly known as the House ethics committee, warned Traficant on Monday "in the strongest possible terms" not to vote on the House floor while lawmakers review his conviction.
Letter from the committee
In a letter, the committee told the nine-term Democrat he risks action by the full House if he tries to vote.
Charles Straub, Traficant's spokesman, said the congressman intended to give the ethics committee a chance to make recommendations.
"He's not looking to create more of a problem than already exists," Straub said.
The House is open for session today through Thursday.
House rules say that a lawmaker convicted of felonies should refrain from voting, but they do not bar him from doing so.
"This provision of House Rules was promulgated to preserve public confidence in the legislative process when a sitting member of Congress has been convicted of a serious crime," according to the letter. "Although, as the relevant legislative history indicates, this provision is not mandatory, we emphasize in the strongest possible terms that if you violate the clear principles of this provision -- that is, for example, by voting in the House -- you risk subjecting yourself to action by this committee, and by the House, in addition to any other disciplinary action that may be initiated in connection with your criminal conviction."
Possible disciplinary actions
House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt has already called for Traficant to resign, and the House ethics committee has announced that it will meet to consider disciplinary action against Traficant.
The ethics committee could recommend Traficant be expelled from Congress, which would require a two-thirds majority vote of the 435-member House of Representatives.
Separately, a member of Congress can at any time introduce a resolution calling for immediate disciplinary action, including expulsion. Such a request must be debated and either voted on or sent to the ethics committee within two days.
The House has expelled only four members in its history, and one since the Civil War.
The committee also could recommend other penalties, including censure, or deny and/or limit his rights and privileges. The House needs only a simple majority to approve those recommendations.
Absent since February
Traficant has not attended a House session since his criminal trial began Feb. 5.
The ethics committee launched an investigation of the congressman only minutes after the verdict was read. The jury found Traficant guilty on all 10 counts including bribery, racketeering and tax evasion.
Traficant plans to appeal the decision. Also, he has no plans to resign from Congress. Traficant said he needs 2,000 signatures for a petition and intends to run for re-election as an independent.
Kennedy said a Web site will soon be up to raise funds.
One man called in to say, "Glad you don't represent me anymore." The caller said the congressman got caught with his hand in the cookie jar and thought he had been above the law.
Traficant said if the caller finds a "Chinese missile stuck up your a-- someday you'll think twice about what you said to me today."
The congressman said he doesn't feel he has a good chance on appeal.
He said that if expelled, he'll still be a candidate even from prison.
He said he told his family that if he saw pain in their eyes, he would not walk back into their house. He said that he has a very fine wife and two fine daughters and that he hopes people don't hurt them.