TRAFICANT CASE U.S. Rep denies charge on show
The show's co-host said that some charges against the congressman were flimsy and that he hoped the jury would find him innocent.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Indicted U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. told a national television audience that he did not accept 13 years' worth of kickbacks from the late Charles P. O'Nesti, one of his former top staffers.
When asked during an appearance Thursday on Fox News Channel's "Hannity & amp; Colmes" show if O'Nesti gave him $1,000 a month for 13 years, Traficant said, "No, he did not," and quickly changed the subject.
Federal prosecutors filed a motion Tuesday stating that O'Nesti made the kickback allegation to them on an audiotape before his February 2000 death, and that he complained about the monthly payments to two other Traficant staffers while he worked for the congressman. Prosecutors want U.S. District Court Judge Lesley Brooks Wells, who is overseeing Traficant's case, to permit those two former Traficant employees to testify about the conversations with O'Nesti.
"If necessary, I guess I'll have to use my unusual skills to interview a dead man," Traficant said.
Sean Hannity, the show's co-host, said O'Nesti, who pleaded guilty to racketeering crimes linked to his connection with a former local mob boss, had no credibility.
Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, faces a 10-count federal indictment on charges including racketeering, bribery and tax evasion.
Allegations: Federal prosecutors say Traficant, whose case is set to start Feb. 4, accepted money, free labor and equipment, and meals from businessmen in exchange for using his influence as a congressman.
Also, prosecutors say Traficant had O'Nesti and two other former top-level staffers give him monthly kickbacks for years and had employees do free work at his family farm in Green Township and his former houseboat in Washington, D.C., on federal time.
The appearance on the Fox News show was the first time Traficant has answered questions about his case on a national talk television show since his May 4, 2000, indictment.
Traficant, who appeared several times on "Hannity and Colmes" before his indictment, said he has avoided such shows because he is concerned Judge Wells will assign him an attorney if he talks too much about the case. Traficant is defending himself against the charges even though he is not an attorney.
Indirect answer: Hannity asked Traficant point-blank if he categorically denied all the charges facing him. Traficant's response was not specific.
"No. 1, I've been a target for 20 years," he told Hannity. "Some of the things are very technical. Everyone involved in this case has something to lose or something to gain. The government has just moved to limit ... me from bringing up the people who will testify against me, how many years they would have been sent to jail unless they gave a plea agreement in the Traficant case."
Without giving a name, Traficant said one of the prosecutor's cooperating witnesses would have gotten 20 years in prison if he didn't cooperate with the investigation.
"He'll end up with six months home arrest and a bracelet, so he said he gave me some cash," Traficant said.
Traficant held a relatively civil discussion with Hannity, whose questions were almost all about the trial. Hannity told Traficant, "I want you to be found innocent," and that some of the charges against him were "flimsy at best."
Guest co-host: It was quite different with Pat Halpin, who was sitting in as host for the absent Alan Colmes. On several occasions, Traficant talked over Halpin, who appeared to be uncomfortable with the congressman's well-known brash style. At one point, Halpin said he was "warned" about Traficant's behavior before the show.
Halpin did not ask a single question about Traficant's case, opting to get his opinions of the Enron Corp. scandal, the national surplus, and concerns Traficant has expressed about the Federal Aviation Administration's issuing pilot's licenses to people in Third World countries.
Traficant used Halpin's line of questioning to push through his standard fare speaking in favor of his proposed 15-percent national retail sales tax, the elimination of the IRS, and his belief that the country is run by career bureaucrats.