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Taxpayers shouldn't provide chauffeur and aide during Traficant's trial in Cleveland



Published: Wed, February 20, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



There's a remarkable arrogance to the 17th District's congressman.

At the very time that James A. Traficant Jr. is on trial for misusing his position, he is, to almost anyone's eye, misusing his position.

The self-proclaimed son of a truck driver now has a chauffeur. A chauffeur being paid for by the taxpayers. There's also evidence that the chauffeur is functioning as a courtroom observer, note-taker and adviser to the congressman during his trial in U.S. District Court in Cleveland on charges of bribery, racketeering and income tax evasion.

We're tempted to use one of the congressman's more colorful scatological allusions to describe this arrangement, but we'll just say it stinks.

Danette R. Palmer, a member of Traficant's congressional staff for three years, drives the congressman to the courthouse each morning and stays throughout the day. Charles Straub, Traficant's spokesman, says Palmer is Traficant's liaison with his staffers during the trial.

Which sounds good, but doesn't make sense. If she's sitting in the courtroom, she's subject to the same rules as everyone else. She can't use a cell phone and she can't leave the room unless there's a recess. What kind of liaison is that?

Time to spare: Court doesn't begin until 9 a.m. every day. There are sometimes short breaks in the morning and afternoon. There's always an hour and a half lunch break. Recess comes about 4:30. The congressman has more than enough opportunity to contact his office to find out if he's missing anything. And in case he hasn't heard, beepers and cell phones can take messages silently.

Normally Palmer is in Traficant's Washington office when Congress is in session -- which it is now. If it's important for her to be in Washington then, it would seem to be doubly important for her to be there now. She could be the one person the congressman could check in with by phone.

Not that there's much for Traficant to keep track of. He's the only member of Congress who isn't on a committee, having been shunned by both parties. As to legislation, all he has to know is what votes he's missed today and which ones he'll miss tomorrow. That shouldn't take long.

If Palmer is, as Straub describes her, his "lifeline to the congressman." then why was she sitting next to Traficant during jury selection and why was she seen reviewing jury questionnaires?

And when did Traficant forget how to drive a car? We assume it was sometime after he had to return his long-borrowed Corvette to its rightful owner. Surely he didn't need a chauffeur to drive a sports car.

And he doesn't need one now.

Traficant's payroll has long been one of the fattest in Congress (17th highest out of 435 members, according to the latest figures available from the National Taxpayers Union), and this trial is beginning to show why -- in more ways than one.




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