TRAFICANT ETHICS HEARING Ruling: guilty on 9 counts
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House ethics subcommittee found U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. guilty today of nine of the 10 charges he faced of violating House ethics rules.
The full ethics committee was to meet later today to recommend to the House the punishment for Traficant.
Traficant, a Poland Democrat, and the ethics committee's attorneys will each have 30 minutes at the hearing to make oral presentations on the sanctions.
The committee is expected to recommend Traficant's expulsion from Congress -- something Traficant acknowledges will happen. It would require a two-thirds vote of Congress to expel Traficant.
"They're probably going to vote to expel," Traficant said. "I don't blame anyone for voting to expel me."
Other possible sanctions include a monetary fine, censure and revocation of certain House privileges. Those sanctions require only a simple majority vote by Congress.
The committee dismissed Count 10, which charged Traficant with racketeering violations. The count was largely a cumulative one that included charges from the other nine counts as well as stand-alone racketeering acts involving a contractor.
U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley, the subcommittee's chairman, said the eight members met for five to six hours Wednesday behind closed doors deliberating the counts. Hefley called the deliberations a "healthy discussion" and said there were "a lot of opinions" expressed during the meeting.
In response to the vote, Traficant told the subcommittee members he was disappointed in them.
Remarks to press
He told the committee members that he was not sure if he would show up at this afternoon's punishment hearing but later told reporters he would probably be there.
After the hearing, Traficant said he had no intention of resigning.
He also said he "would never talk about" any other member of Congress he believes has been involved in questionable behavior.
By a majority vote, the committee decided there is "clear and convincing evidence" of Traficant's guilt for nine of the 10 counts of corruption, which included bribery, obstruction of justice, defrauding the federal government and tax evasion.
Hefley did not disclose how many members voted for conviction on each count or whether anyone dissented on the nine guilty counts. He said a report would be released later today explaining the subcommittee's deliberations.
"It was a remarkable free exchange," said U.S. Rep. Howard Berman, the subcommittee's ranking minority member, of the private deliberations. "It was the exact opposite of a rubber stamp; it was a vigorous debate."
In the past, when the committee has decided issues such as Traficant's motions for dismissal of the charges, committee members have reached a consensus without having an actual yes-or-no vote, said U.S. Rep. Gene Green, a Texas Democrat who sits on the panel.
The case against Traficant was based entirely on the transcript of and evidence from his criminal trial, which took place in Cleveland from Feb. 5 to April 11.
The subcommittee found Richard E. Detore, Traficant's co-defendant and star witness at the hearing, to be "interesting and credible," Hefley said. But it wasn't enough to exonerate Traficant on the count accusing him of accepting money and other things of value from Detore and J.J. Cafaro, Detore's boss at USAerospace Group.
Hefley said Detore's testimony about prosecutorial misconduct "raised questions apart from this." Detore had accused assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Morford of threatening him and attempting to coerce him to lie about Traficant.
Traficant had urged the committee Wednesday to postpone its ruling until after he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells on July 30. After announcing that he and his attorney are filing two appeals of the jury's verdict, Traficant also said the panel should delay any judgment until after his appeals have been considered by a court.
"I think it would be very unfair to expel any member" while his appeals are pending, Traficant said. "I think you should at least give it a week to review."
Hefley rejected Traficant's motions.
Before making the decision, the committee members and staff reviewed several pieces of evidence that Traficant introduced Wednesday, including a number of affidavits and 10 audiotapes of his conversations with people he said would prove prosecutorial misconduct.
The tapes, considered hearsay, were disallowed as evidence at trial because the people were available to testify. Traficant said he did not believe the subcommittee listened to the tapes.
If, as Traficant expects, he ultimately is expelled from the House, it would be the first such instance since 1980, when Michael Myers, a Pennsylvania Democrat, was kicked out after he was caught on videotape accepting bribes from FBI agents disguised as Arab sheiks.
Says there's no evidence
In his closing argument, Traficant said the evidence against Myers was much clearer than in his case because Myers was videotaped while, Traficant insisted, no concrete evidence tied him to any of the crimes.
"There's one common thread that runs through the entire Traficant case: There's no evidence," Traficant said.
He argued that the witnesses who testified against him in the trial had been coerced by the prosecutors and were unreliable. He also said that the criminal records of some of the witnesses should lead committee members to doubt their veracity.
Paul Lewis, the ethics committee lawyer who prosecuted the case in front of the panel, repeatedly instructed the committee members to "use common sense" when considering the charges.
"For this congressman's entire career, he used his office for personal benefit," Lewis said.
He spent much of his closing argument defending the witnesses' credibility.
"If they were really out to get him, as opposed to telling the truth, there were many areas they could have embellished the truth," Lewis said.
"It's not often that we see such direct evidence of this sort of conduct," he concluded. "This case displays this conduct that thankfully often is not seen."
XContributor: David Enrich, States News Service, Washington, D.C.