To hear the poor, old son-of-a-truck-driver congressman tell his sad story before the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct yesterday, James A. Traficant continues to be the victim of a government vendetta. But fans of the former-Democrat, now Independent, and convicted felon shouldn't worry, because, as he insisted at the hearing to determine whether he will be expelled from the House of Representatives, he'll be the first congressman elected from prison.
Traficant should have given the same message to his lawyer so that they'd have their stories straight. Cleveland attorney Richard E. Hackerd has just filed motions in U.S. District Court asking Judge Lesley Brooks Wells to consider sentencing Traficant below the guidelines and to stay his incarceration pending appeal because "Incarceration will devastate his chances in the upcoming election, end his political career and deny the residents of the Mahoning Valley a fair opportunity to choose their representative of choice."
The Mahoning Valley should be so lucky.
But hearing the contradictory litanies from Traficant and his lawyer should come as no surprise -- neither should his obnoxious behavior, his reiteration of favored irrelevancies nor his unfounded accusations against the Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service, former Attorney General Janet Reno, the Internal Revenue Service, the Jews and Judge Wells, among others.
And just as he tried to finagle delays in his federal racketeering trial, he tried the same stunts in front of the Ethics Committee: he needed more time to read the case against him, his witnesses couldn't be there, committee members had tampered with testimony.
Feathering his nest
Of course, Traficant wasn't playing his role as aggrieved good guy for the eight members of the committee. His show was designed for his supporters around the country watching CSPAN, the men and women who buy into his absurdities and really believe that the government is out to get him. They honestly believe that he's been fighting for the little guy when all along he's been taking the little guy's hard-earned tax dollars to feather his own nest and line his own pockets. Which only goes to prove Abraham Lincoln's observation that you can "fool some of the people all of the time."
But Lincoln also said that "you can't fool all of the people all of the time." And Traficant's customary histrionics did not impress committee chairman Joel Hefley, R-Colo., who noted that Traficant spent most of his hour-long opening statement railing against the government and officials' motives for prosecuting him.
"I don't think we're interested in why you got here, & quot; Hefley said. "I think we're interested in "Did you do the things you're accused of?'"
Any reasonable person who listened to the case laid out by committee prosecutor Paul Lewis would have had no doubt that "throughout his career, the congressman was trading official acts for favors."
When confronted by Traficant, his demeanor and his defense, a federal jury was not impressed; a federal judge was not impressed. And we rather imagine that a committee of congressmen and women won't be impressed either. Traficant said he wanted a jury of his peers. Now he's got one.