Editor's note: On July 15, U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. of Poland, D-17th, is expected to appear on Capitol Hill for the first time in three months. But he won't be returning a conquering hero. Instead, the convicted felon is being given the opportunity to answer charges that he violated the rules of official conduct of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The case against Traficant will be presented by two lawyers of the ethics committee, after which the congressman will be invited to respond. He can call witnesses, so long as their testimony is relevant.
Given the importance of the proceedings and the national attention they undoubtedly will attract, this week's column is dedicated to all the Traficant disciples who have viewed his political career through rose-colored glasses.
Next week, the opinions of Traficant's long-time critics will be shown in this space.
Mr. Chairman and members of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct:
I rise in support of Congressman James A. Traficant Jr., Jimbo to his many friends and supporters. A good man is being targeted by the forces of evil. You must put a stop to this miscarriage of justice.
The FBI, the U.S. Justice Department, especially former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, and federal Judge Lesley Brooks Wells have conspired to destroy this decent, honest, God-fearing individual. Why? Because they do not want him to be president.
Yes, Mr. Chairman, Jim Traficant was on his way to becoming a genuine national hero when the FBI decided to believe all the lies that were told about him by individuals who were caught breaking the law and offered to make deals. These people knew that the federal government's main target was the congressman, so they accused him of demanding kickbacks, taking bribes and having work done at his farm for free.
Even the jury in the criminal trial participated in this federal government conspiracy. The jurors completely ignored the fact that the main witnesses against Mr. Traficant were those who had pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges. In other words, they were crooks, but the federal prosecutors held them up as honest, trustworthy citizens who had made some mistakes.
Congressman Traficant was railroaded in federal court and now the House Ethics Committee wants to railroad him in these proceedings.
Mr. Chairman, for 18 years this man has represented the good people of Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, and even after it became known that he was going to be indicted, the voters of the Mahoning Valley still re-elected him. That's because he is a hero to the common man.
When he was sheriff of Mahoning County, he went to jail because he ignored a judge's order to foreclose on the homes of laid-off steelworkers. Even back then he was the target of the FBI and Justice Department. They accused him of taking bribes from the Mafia when he was running for sheriff, but he defended himself and was acquitted. However, the government wouldn't give up and charged him with tax evasion. He was found guilty of owing taxes, interest and penalty on $106,000 the government says he took from the Mafia but never declared as income.
Nonetheless, the people of the Mahoning Valley continued to support him. Because he wanted to make sure that no true-blue American would have to experience what he went through in tax court, the congressman succeeded in passing a law that changed the burden of proof in tax cases. That made him an enemy of the IRS. He has been a target ever since.
Mr. Chairman, the ethics committee would be doing a great disservice to the people of the Mahoning Valley if it recommends expulsion for Mr. Traficant. There are thousands of people like me who think he's a real American because he refuses to be pushed around.
The federal judge who presided over his trial will sentence Mr. Traficant on July 30. Some people want her to give him the maximum sentence and send him to prison immediately. But Judge Wells has received letters from lots of Valley residents like me who are urging her to be lenient. We do not believe that the congressman should spend even one day in prison. If she cannot waive imprisonment, we are asking that she keep him in a prison in Ohio so he will be able to serve in Congress if he is re-elected in the November general election.
Mr. Chairman, members of the ethics committee, Congressman Traficant hasn't done anything that most of you haven't done. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.