- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., Ohio Democrat, said yesterday he expects to be expelled from the House and to serve time in prison for a series of misconduct charges even while maintaining his innocence.

"I'm prepared to be expelled. I'm prepared to go to jail. But I didn't do this," the nine-term congressman told a panel from the House ethics committee, which began formal hearings into Traficant's record yesterday.

He will be sentenced July 30 on his conviction in a federal court in Cleveland on a series of felony counts, including racketeering, filing false income-tax returns and several conspiracy charges. The House committee is considering whether the evidence that convicted Traficant in a court is sufficient to warrant penalty for violating the House's code of conduct.

Traficant was back in Congress for the first time since his conviction. The committee expects to wrap up its hearing by tomorrow.

True to form, the congressman known for his quirky haircut and colorful statements put on a show yesterday. Before the hearing, he told photographers to "get these cameras out of my face." He stopped his opening statement to ask why committee members were laughing.

"Is there something funny about me discussing my life?" he demanded.

Committee lawyer Paul M. Lewis presented a 10-count case for sanctioning Traficant, ranging from accepting cars and other property from those he had helped to demanding kickbacks from congressional staff.

He also said several former congressional employees spent part of their time working on the congressman's farm in Ohio or on scraping and painting his boat in Washington, which would constitute a misuse of public office. Mr. Lewis presented trial testimony from people who said they performed work for Mr. Traficant at his farm in return for his help.

As in the federal trial, Traficant, a former county sheriff, defended himself before the committee.

Traficant said the boat-painting with staffers was more like an office party or group bonding experience.

"They drank more beer," he said. "They didn't do anything on that boat."

He said the people who worked on his farm were simply friends helping him out.

"I am an American, and I have friends, and my friends can help me," he said.

If the panel decides any of the counts have been proved, the committee will consider the issue and recommend a penalty to the full House, which then would have to approve any action. Expelling Traficant would require a two-thirds vote of the House.

Committee Chairman Joel Hefley, Colorado Republican, frequently overruled objections from the committee's lawyer to let Traficant explore tangential points.

But Traficant did not make things easy for the chairman, objecting to each of the three exhibits the transcript from the federal trial in Ohio, the physical exhibits from the trial, and one key witness's plea agreement that came after Traficant's conviction and repeatedly arguing that one of his witnesses should be subpoenaed despite the man's indication to the committee that he would remain silent on constitutional grounds to prevent incriminating himself.

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