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If Traficant thought 'they' were out to get him, he should have behaved



Published: Sun, July 21, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Almost certainly, U.S. Rep. James A Traficant, D-17, of Ohio will be simply citizen Traficant before the week is out.

And while we're sure he will attribute his downfall to others, he has only himself for blame.

Traficant is fond of describing himself as the "son of a truck driver," and in some societies that would define a person for life. But in this nation, a son of a truck driver can still become almost anything he wants to be -- if he's smart enough, he works hard enough and he keeps his nose clean.

Traficant was smart, talented, educated and, while he sometimes lacked focus, he could work. What he couldn't do was keep his nose clean.

Jim Traficant took money from the mob when he ran for sheriff in 1980. He denied it at first. Then he said he took it only to keep it from being used against him. And then he said he took it in a one-man sting to destroy the mob. But he took it. And even though a jury in 1983 found him not guilty, subsequent events and testimony showed that he not only took the money, he spent some of it.

It's an old story

You've probably known someone like Jim Traficant. A person with brains and talent and personality to whom everything seems to come easily, almost too easily. These same people seem to have an almost innate ability to get themselves into trouble.

Eventually, these folks break a rule or a law that gets them into deep trouble -- thrown out of the house or fired or even arrested. Some of those people learn from such a lesson. They realize how close they came to ruining their lives, to losing everything. They resolve to do better.

Jim Traficant, for all his talents, is a slow learner in that regard.

Caught once, he beat the rap. He pulled a weak, inexperienced judge, an over-confident prosecutor, a sympathetic jury. He was one of the luckiest guys on earth, but he mistook his luck for invincibility.

Traficant likes to say that the government was out to get him, and maybe it was. There's stronger evidence that Traficant chose to pursue his own vendetta against the government. Found guilty of tax evasion, he made it his goal in Congress to cripple the Internal Revenue Service. He encouraged anti-government fringe groups who see a conspiracy behind every door in Washington. He slandered the attorney general of the United States with no evidence to back up vicious accusations.

As a congressman, he had the luxury of being an especially sharp thorn in the government's side. And he could have been so until the day he died, had he only resolved back in 1983 to never again commit an indictable offense.

Prudence goes a long way

A person who believes the government is out to get him avoids even the appearance of breaking the law. He doesn't take loans from his staff, he doesn't rent office space from an entity set up to circumvent the law, he doesn't accept welding equipment and cars from constituents he helped, he doesn't allow his staff to work on his boat or his farm, he doesn't allow contractors for whom he interceded as a congressman to do work on his farm.

Those are all things Traficant acknowledged doing, although he tried to paint them in an innocent light. The government was able to take those actions, combined with other evidence and testimony, and convince a jury that Traficant broke the law. Based on that record, a House subcommittee unanimously concluded that Traficant should be expelled.

And when that expulsion comes this week, Traficant can rant and rave or react with quiet dignity. It will be his choice. It has always been his choice.




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