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TRAFICANT CASE Two in House seek to expel lawmaker



Published: Wed, April 17, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Poland congressman has tarnished other lawmakers, a California congresswoman said.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

WASHINGTON -- Two members of Congress, including the chairman of the powerful U.S. House Judiciary Committee, submitted resolutions calling for the expulsion of U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.

But because the resolutions are nonprivileged, they will automatically be sent to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, which is already investigating Traficant.

"It doesn't mean anything," said U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, a Madison Republican who serves on the standards committee, commonly known as the House ethics committee. "It was filed, and will be referred to the ethics committee."

Submitted first one

Saying that felons belong in jail and not in Congress, U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., a 12-term Republican from Menomonee Falls, Wis., submitted the first expulsion resolution Tuesday. The House Judiciary Committee chairman also called for Traficant to resign before he is expelled.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a Democrat from Orange County, Calif., offered a similar resolution late Tuesday. Even though the resolution had no immediate timetable for consideration by the House, Sanchez said she offered the measure "to send a message to the American people that most of us are very troubled by his conduct."

"I think he tarnishes all of us," Sanchez said. "He should resign."

If either Sensenbrenner or Sanchez had submitted a privileged resolution, it would have compelled the House to debate the request and either vote on it or send it to the ethics committee within two legislative days, Sensenbrenner's staffer said.

"He has broken the public trust by breaking the law, and if he will not voluntarily leave this House, our duty is to remove him," said Sensenbrenner, in a prepared statement. "Throughout my tenure in the House, I have consistently taken the position that members who have been convicted of felonies should be expelled if they do not resign."

Under House rules, a member of Congress can at any time introduce a resolution calling for immediate disciplinary action, including expulsion.

Traficant, convicted last week on 10 felony counts including bribery and racketeering, said he has no plans to resign.

Under investigation

The ethics committee has been investigating Traficant since his conviction and sent him a letter Monday warning him "in the strongest possible terms" not to vote on the House floor while his conviction is reviewed. Traficant, a Poland Democrat, has opted to honor the committee's request.

Charles Straub, Traficant's spokesman, said he was somewhat surprised by Sensenbrenner's motion to expel because of the ethics committee's investigation.

"The motion to expel is a little redundant," he said.

Sensenbrenner introduced an expulsion resolution in 1995 when then-U.S. Rep. Walter Tucker of California initially refused to resign from Congress after a conviction. Tucker changed his mind and the resolution was not acted upon by the House.

The Wisconsin congressman also was prepared to seek the expulsion in 1994 of then-U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois, former Ways and Means Committee chairman, who was prepared to enter a plea bargain to a felony and not resign. That plea was never reached.

"I would hope that the gentleman from Ohio [Traficant] will follow the example of Mr. Tucker and save the House the need to debate once again whether felons should continue to serve in Congress," Sensenbrenner said.

Strickland's view

U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, a Lucasville Democrat seeking to represent the Mahoning Valley, said the ethics committee should be permitted to investigate Traficant without resolutions introduced by House members. But Strickland said he wouldn't be surprised if other members of Congress file resolutions seeking Traficant's ouster.

"Those who think Congressman Traficant is being treated unfairly will see this as a rush to action by the House," Strickland said. "It's not wise to rush to action."

U.S. Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer, an Akron Democrat seeking to represent the Valley, said he was pleased that Sensenbrenner did not seek a privileged resolution calling for Traficant's expulsion because it would have been premature.

The ethics committee could recommend Traficant be expelled from Congress, which would require a two-thirds majority vote of the House. Congress could take other measures including censure or deny and/or limit his rights and privileges.

House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt has called for Traficant to resign. Also, House Majority Leader Dick Armey told Congressional Quarterly that he wants Traficant out but would wait for the ethics committee to complete its investigation rather than put a resolution on the floor calling for his expulsion.

"Most people basically feel that Congressman Traficant should resign," Armey said. "My own view is that the normal course of events would probably lead to expulsion."

skolnick@vindy.com




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