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House Panel finds Traficant Guilty of Ethics Violations

Aired July 18, 2002 - 14:18   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: The congressman from Ohio, known for his antics and outbursts, is in trouble again. A House panel today found Jim Traficant guilty of ethics violations. Traficant's punishment may include being kicked out of Congress.

CNN's Bob Franken joins us live from Washington.

Bob, that hasn't happened in a long time.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It has only happened once since the Civil War, and that was during the 1980 Abscam scandal.

But now, we have Congressman Jim Traficant, who has been convicted by a jury in Cleveland of a variety of charges, bribery, fraud and tax evasion, who now is going to go before the full House Ethics Committee, which will decide whether to recommend that he be expelled from the House of Representatives. Traficant is holding court right now with reporters, waiting for the Ethics Committee to meet.

Now, as you pointed out, Jim Traficant can be flamboyant and capable of saying anything, anytime. But I think that we are going to take a huge chance and dropping and see what he is talking about right now, if we can figure it out.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

REP. JIM TRAFICANT (D), OHIO: And I think many of the members here are regular people. Second of all, I think there are too many attorneys down here. I think there's too many attorneys that have been going ahead and passing laws that I believe favor attorneys. And I believe that Congress is very concerned about having their personal history circled by the IRS and FBI and Justice, and I think they are a little bit leery and have given the executive branch...

FRANKEN: Jim Traficant talking about a subject that has been a pet subject of his ever since he came to Congress, and that is what he considers to be an abuse of Internal Revenue Service. It was the type of thing that became part of the every day procedure in the House, when Traficant would make some fairly outlandish one-minute statements, and oftentimes they were about the Internal Revenue Service. And he would oftentimes end them by saying, "beam me up."

But right now, the members of the Ethics Committee are taking things much more seriously. They are going to decide whether he should be expelled from Congress, and whether they should make that recommendation. If they do make that recommendation, he would get his chance to argue on the House Floor.

As you can see, there are other possibilities. They could recommend a reprimand for serious violations, as the rules say, or a censure, more serious violations when he would stand in the well of the House and be chastised, or of course, he could be expelled. As I said, he would be able to argue his case. And, Kyra, a characteristic of Jim Traficant, he said, if that happens, if he argues his case, he is going to do a Michael Jackson imitation, a moonwalk on the House Floor. It will be one of his less flamboyant moments.

PHILLIPS: Oh, yes, absolutely. I can't wait to see that one. You know, you say things like that, Bob, that -- or you repeat things that he has said. Does he realize how serious this is? I mean, does he even realize the charges against him? And he seems to make light of so much of this.

FRANKEN: Well, he does, but remember, this is a man who, in the minds of many, has been able to sort of bluster his way through one jam after another. He is such an interesting character. He came to prominence and came to Congress, as a matter of fact, after refusing as sheriff in Mahoney County in Ohio, which is where Youngstown is, refusing to foreclose on the homes of steelworkers who had been laid off. And that made him, of course, immensely popular.

He was a nine-term member of Congress. He was able to convince a jury back in 1980 that he was not guilty of bribery charges while he was sheriff, then he got elected. The Internal Revenue Service has been dogging him. Investigators have been on his case all those years, and they finally caught up with him. He is facing sentencing on July 30 of over seven years in prison. But this not a man who is going to admit or never has that he is the slightest bit frightened. One of the more polite terms you can describe in his tactic is that he is a man that uses an awful lot of bravado.

PHILLIPS: Bob Franken live from Washington -- to say the least, thanks, Bob.

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