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House to vote on Traficant's ouster Wednesday

Traficant makes a point at last week's House Ethics Committee hearing
Traficant makes a point at last week's House Ethics Committee hearing  

From Ted Barrett, Kate Snow and George Cooper

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House plans to vote Wednesday evening on whether to expel Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio, from Congress, House Republican leaders said late Tuesday.

If he is expelled, Traficant would be only the second representative to be voted out of Congress since the Civil War.

The leaders had considered a request to postpone the vote after a juror in his Cleveland corruption trial said he is no longer sure the maverick Ohio representative is guilty, but decided after a day of maneuvering to go ahead with the vote after all.

Debate on the motion will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

"I have committed no crimes," Traficant told CNN's Connie Chung Tonight.

The expulsion resolution will be brought up by House ethics committee Chairman Joel Hefley, R-Colorado. The committee recommended last week that Traficant, 61, be kicked out of Congress after being convicted on federal bribery and racketeering charges in April.

Hefley will present the case against Traficant with Rep. Howard Berman, D-California.

Brash, crass and outspoken 
Vote to expel Traficant 

Traficant will have 30 minutes to defend himself, but a spokesman for the nine-term congressman said he would request more time. The entire process is expected to take no more than three hours.

Traficant spokesman Charlie Straub told CNN that Traficant is ready to make his last defense before his House colleagues.

"He's said he will face his colleagues," Straub said.

Straub said Traficant will raise questions about his trial that have "gone unanswered." He said he expected the flamboyant congressman to have notes, but not necessarily follow a prepared statement.

"He knows this better than anyone," Straub said. "He may know it too well. At times I think he's explaining things that others have a hard time catching up [with]."

Traficant told CNN he may ask for an injunction in the House process based on the case of Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, D-New York, whom the House voted to exclude in 1967. The Supreme Court ruled two years later the House had acted unconstitutionally in excluding Powell from Congress because he was elected by the voters of his district and was not ineligible to serve.

"There's a question whether or not Congress can expel me," Traficant said. "I know that sounds very unusual, but don't be surprised if I don't come with some legal and political machinations that put Congress on its heels."

Juror raises doubts about conviction

Straub said "Unfortunately, the House is going to take an action it can't reverse knowingly in the face of unresolved issues of prosecutorial misconduct and judicial misconduct." Members of Congress should "seriously consider" comments from a juror that came out over the weekend, he said.

The juror, Leo Glaser of Independence, Ohio, said that after he watched the televised proceedings of the House ethics committee hearing, he had doubts about whether Traficant should have been convicted on all counts in his corruption trial.

Specifically, Glaser said, testimony by former U.S. Aerospace executive Richard Detore convinced him that the government had a vendetta against Traficant.

"I know it's after the fact," Glaser told the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Saturday. "But now I believe that there's no doubt that the government was out to get him, and if they want you, they'll find enough evidence to make you believe that the Earth is flat."

Detore chose not to testify in Traficant's trial because he's facing a fall trial for bribery charges in the case. But he did talk to the ethics panel last week, denying that he tried to bribe Traficant and that federal prosecutor Craig Morford tried to force him to lie about the congressman.

Glaser's comments led Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, a friend of Traficant's, to ask House Speaker Dennis Hastert to postpone the floor vote until after the August recess so the facts could "play out." LaTourette sits on the ethics committee and had agreed with the committee's unanimous decision to expel Traficant.

The juror's statements, LaTourette said, "begins to make you think, 'Wait a minute.' Not necessarily that anyone has made a mistake, but likewise I don't think the future of the republic is at stake if we don't act on this thing tomorrow."

'He ought to be out of here'

LaTourette and House Majority Leader Dick Armey also pointed to a packed schedule in the House this week -- including plans to vote on homeland security and corporate accountability measures -- and said it might be easier to put off the Traficant issue until September.

"We have a lot of other things to do with appropriations and homeland security and ... no harm is done to anyone by not having a vote to expel Mr. Traficant until we return after Labor Day," LaTourette said.

Armey also said leaders were concerned about the juror's remarks: "We didn't want to take an action in this case and have him win a reversal on appeal," he said.

Though elected as a Democrat, Traficant was forced out of the Democratic caucus and stripped of his committee assignments after he voted with Republicans to make Hastert speaker of the House in 2001. Other Democrats said that they would fight any Republican effort to postpone the vote to expel Traficant, who is running for re-election as an independent.

"Our feeling is he's a felon and he ought to be out of here. We'll move to expel him," a Democratic leadership aide said.

Tuesday afternoon, Hastert called House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt to see whether Democrats would be willing to hold off the vote. Gephardt said no.

Faced with a difficult choice -- taking extreme measures on behalf of Traficant, or risking a political assault by Democrats -- Republicans decided to go ahead with the vote.

Several sources suggested that Ohio politics are driving the move to postpone a vote on Traficant's future. For all the hand-wringing Traficant is causing in Washington, the congressman remains popular at home and talk about a juror raising questions has played well with his longtime supporters.

Members of Congress who are running for seats -- particularly near Traficant's base of Youngstown, in eastern Ohio -- are keenly aware of how it would appear to voters at home if they're seen as rushing to push Traficant out of Congress.




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