'You better beat me on appeal, or there will be no IRS,' the congressman said.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
and DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITERS
YOUNGSTOWN -- A defiant and rambling U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. repeated his assertions that the federal government put him on trial a second time because it wanted to avenge its loss in the courtroom in his 1983 racketeering case.
"I'm the only one that had ever beaten them, and they had to clean the slate," he told Greta Van Susteren in a Fox News "On the Record" TV interview taped in the Mahoning Valley over the weekend -- the first segment of which aired Monday evening. Part two will air tonight and part three Wednesday.
In the recently completed federal racketeering trial in Cleveland, in which a jury convicted him on all 10 counts, Traficant complained that Judge Lesley Brooks Wells excluded nine of the tapes he tried to enter into evidence and wouldn't let nine of his witnesses testify before the jury.
Van Susteren, who landed the first national interview with Traficant since his conviction, said her goal during their discussion was to give the controversial congressman a chance to speak his mind.
"He's a chatty guy. Some people you interview, it's like pulling teeth. The congressman had a lot to say, he said it, and I'll let the viewers decide" what to believe, she said.
Responding to the charge that he had congressional staff members work on his Greenford horse farm on government time, Traficant said they did so voluntarily on their own time. He said the case against him was fomented by a few disgruntled staff members upset with some of his hirings.
Traficant, who faces possible expulsion from Congress because of his racketeering conviction, said the government presented "no wiretaps, no bugs, no physical evidence," and not a single fingerprint from him was found on 972 documents presented in the case.
He also said people have been reluctant to contribute to his re-election campaigns for fear of being targeted by the IRS for an audit.
"You better beat me on appeal, or there will be no IRS. And I'm not afraid of the IRS. They can go to hell ... and I'm going to take my own appeal all the way. I'm not afraid to go to jail," said Traficant.
During the wide-ranging interview, Traficant mentioned some of the issues that have been the hallmarks of his populist agenda: abolition of the IRS and his warnings about the threats posed by China and the wave of illegal aliens crossing from Mexico into the United States.
Van Susteren said the interview is being shown over three days because Traficant has a lot to say and because there are other important national issues that deserve attention on her show.
Traficant has appeared numerous times on Fox News Channel shows, but this was his first interview with Van Susteren, a former attorney.
She said she personally called Traficant's office seeking the interview. She opted to travel Saturday to Youngstown to talk to Traficant because "it's harder to do satellite interviews."
Van Susteren wanted to spend some time in Youngstown checking out the sites, but the limited number of airline flights from Pittsburgh to Washington forced her to get out of town rather quickly.
"But during the brief time I talked to people in Youngstown, they said they really liked him and he really fought for the little guy," she said. "I thought that was interesting. I almost got the sense it would not surprise me if he gave someone a good run for his money in the next election if he was able to run and he did run."
Van Susteren said she asked Traficant about the case, its outcome, his future and "his thoughts on bigger-picture issues."
"We talked about the trial, and I asked about his thoughts of going to prison and things like that," she said. "He said he's not afraid, but I don't think he wants to go. He thinks he's a victim of the system and he feels the overwhelming weight of the government."
Traficant, who often uses colorful language, used only a small amount of profanity during the interview, which Van Susteren said was no big deal.
"He was a gentleman but very passionate," she said. "There's nothing different than what you've seen before in terms of that. Frankly, I thought he was a little lower key than some of the stuff I've seen in the past."