House gives Traficant the boot
Prison might be next for former lawmaker
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House of Representatives opened for business one member short Thursday, following the extraordinary expulsion of James Traficant, a self-proclaimed "regular guy" whose political career crumbled in a bribery and racketeering scandal.
In a 420-1 vote Wednesday night, Traficant -- who was convicted of federal corruption charges in April -- became only the second House member since the Civil War to be kicked out of Congress.
The nine-term Ohio Democrat has said he is the victim of a vendetta by federal prosecutors. In an impassioned final speech, Traficant declared, "I'll go to jail before I resign and admit to something I didn't do."
The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct recommended last week that he be kicked out of Congress.
"This is the people's house, and we have to do our job," said Ethics Committee member Gene Green, D-Texas. "If we can't remove a member of Congress who has been convicted of 10 felonies -- including using his office for personal gain -- we risk losing the faith and trust of the American people that we have."
Traficant did not show up for the vote in denim or perform a "Michael Jackson moonwalk," as he had threatened last week. Nor did he at any time utter his trademark exclamation, "Beam me up!"
In a rambling address to his colleagues, Traficant outlined what he said were holes in the government's case against him and lies by prosecution witnesses. He boasted of bringing $1.3 billion in federal money back to his mostly blue-collar Ohio district and of his crusades against the Internal Revenue Service. But he sounded resigned to his eventual expulsion.
"No American should fear their government, and this guy doesn't. I'm ready to go," he said.
The only vote against kicking him out of the House came from outgoing Rep. Gary Condit, D-California, who himself was caught up in a public quagmire after last year's disappearance of former Washington intern Chandra Levy.
The last House member expelled from the House was Rep. Michael Myers, a Pennsylvania Democrat thrown out in 1980 for taking money from undercover FBI agents.
Rep. Steve LaTourette, a friend of Traficant's, had asked the House to put off Traficant's expulsion until after the congressional summer recess. He cited published comments from a juror in Traficant's trial who said he now has doubts about whether Traficant should have been convicted.
"What you're being asked to do tonight is the equivalent -- it is -- the political death penalty. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube," said LaTourette, R-Ohio. "If he gets a new trial next Tuesday, you can't unexpel him next Wednesday."
The juror, Leo Glaser, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that testimony by former U.S. Aerospace executive Richard Detore before the ethics committee convinced him that the government had a vendetta against Traficant. Detore has been indicted on a related charge and did not testify in Traficant's trial.
But California Rep. Howard Berman, the committee's ranking Democrat, said Detore's comments were an attempt to "save his own neck" in a related trial in Cleveland. And Ethics Committee chairman Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colorado, said there was "clear and convincing evidence" that Traficant was guilty of bribery, obstruction of justice, using congressional staff for personal work and making false statements on income tax returns.
Traficant faces sentencing Tuesday on 10 counts of bribery, tax evasion and racketeering. He is likely to be sentenced to prison, but has said he will run for re-election as an independent from behind bars.
"I'm running, and I wouldn't be surprised if I'm elected from a jail cell because people know I got railroaded back here," he told CNN in an interview Tuesday night.
The maverick Democrat was strongly critical of the Clinton administration and voted with Republicans to make Illinois Rep. Dennis Hastert speaker of the House. As a result, he was kicked out of the House Democratic caucus and stripped of his committee assignments.
Traficant has long complained the government has maintained a vendetta against him since he convinced a jury in 1983 to acquit him of bribery charges. At the time, he was sheriff of Mahoning County, Ohio. After his acquittal, he successfully ran for Congress.
"I'm a son of a truck driver," Traficant told CNN in an interview Tuesday. "Forget this Congress business, I'm a regular guy."
Traficant's expulsion went into effect immediately.
The new House lineup is: 222 Republicans; 210 Democrats; 2 Independents, and one vacancy.
According to federal law and House rules, Traficant's office will remain open and run by Traficant staffers, but technically it is under the supervision of the clerk of the House of Representatives.
Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, must now decide whether to hold a special election or to allow the seat to remain vacant until the end of the year.
-- CNN.com writer Matt Smith, CNN Correspondent Kate Snow, political researcher Robert Yoon, and producers Ted Barrett and George Cooper contributed to this report.