Exclusive! Embattled Ohio Congressman James Traficant

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, April 24, 2002. Click here to order the entire transcript of the show.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST:  Welcome back.  I am Greta Van Susteren.  This is On the Record.  Now more of my exclusive interview with James Traficant. 


TRAFICANT:  They're afraid of me because of my politics.  The Mideast, I believe they took great issue with me after 9/11.  I believe we've exported the violence from Israel over to America.  We've been too one-sided.  I'm not against Israel.  They're our friend.  They're a free nation, a democracy within a cluster of monarchs and dictators that we cannot trust for sure.  But let me say this, the Palestinian children are God's children, too.  And the Palestinian people deserve a land also.We cannot be just simply one-sided with Israel.  And we must be fair in a region.  If we're not, there's not just going to be a bin Laden.  There will be more bin Ladens. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  Let me talk about Congress.  You've got Dick Gephardt, Democratic leader, who says Congressman Traficant should resign in light of the conviction.  Your response to that?

TRAFICANT:  Dick Gephardt, in my opinion, has led the Democratic Party downhill.  And I don't think he's a man that you would follow into battle.  And I think if you're going to start evaluating leadership, the first thing you do is look at a person and see if you'd follow him into battle. 

Now, I played football with Mike Ditka.  And I'd follow Mike Ditka into battle any day.  And you talked about Rocky Bleier, and I'd follow Rocky Bleier into battle any day.  Dick Gephardt, I wouldn't follow him into any battles. 

So, I've already said a few things.  Look, he's a nice guy from a nice family.  But he sort of got around a $660,000 condominium on a nice sweetheart deal that they're investigating him down there on one of those islands off the coast of South Carolina.  So, I'm not going to bring up Dick Gephardt. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  Does he hate you?  I mean, is there a vendetta against you?

TRAFICANT:  No.  I think he doesn't like me because I voted for Dennis Hastert because I think the Republicans were better for America than the Democrats were.  The Democrats let the IRS get out of control.  The IRS  -- at least the Republicans reformed the IRS and allowed the Traficant language to be put into bill by Bill Archer. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  So, why didn't you become a Republican? 

TRAFICANT:  Because I am a Democrat.  Even though I'm a Democrat, I vote for what's best for the country.  If I think the Republicans at the time were better at leadership in America, I voted for Dennis Hastert.  I think Dennis Hastert was better for America than Dick Gephardt.  That's the way it is.

I'm very hurt with what Dick Armey did, because I'm going to tell him right here, right on your show on Fox network, Greta, that he once had a little problem back home and come to the sheriff and asked for his assistance. 


TRAFICANT:  It wasn't a big thing.  It wasn't a big thing.  But Dick Armey is a fine man. 

I understand the pressure that they're under.  But this is why, with the pressure they're under, knowing now that the Fifth, Sixth Amendments of an American who's been politically targeted, they should allow the ethics investigation of Congress to be openly publicized. 

In fact, I offer to the Congress the following:  I will be glad to come before the Ethics Committee, joint Ethics Committee and Judiciary Committee, subject to any and all questions in an open, public forum.  Without an open public forum, I may just let them vote to expel me without even showing up because I think we do too much behind closed doors in America.  And I'm tired of the closed doors.  I think it's time to open America up. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  Do you think they'll do that? 

TRAFICANT:  Well, if -- I think the Republicans have enough courage to do it.  And I think the Democrats are scared to death because the Democrats controlled America for 50 years.  And they've allowed America's trade deficit.  They've allowed America's budget deficits.  They've allowed the government to become so powerful that people are afraid of the government. 

I think the Republicans have a chance of taking it back.  But they're worrying me.  They're worrying me because they're not taking enough strong efforts.  And they're starting now to be more concerned about maintaining majority than changing America.  Americans change. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  What's the opposition, though, to having a hearing on you?  If you want it open, what kind of resistance would you have?

TRAFICANT:  Well, first of all, they'll say, well they're going to get Traficant, like the court was concerned about.  Do you realize that in the Traficant trial the judge -- I sent for my 1982 transcript because I thought there were things that were salient to my case.  It was very unusual, and popped out on the screen, that said that it's unusual, but the case was in the chambers of Judge Leslie Brooks Wells. 

Then I found out that the FBI went and actually visited and interviewed the former judge that handled my 1983 case, who said she didn't like me, and said I was crazy, but crazy like a fox, keep an eye on him.  Wherever I started to move with a witness to impeach a witness, she would stop me.  She would literally stop me and say, "I don't know where we're going here.  Let's have a sidebar."  Next thing you know, the jury is out. 

I think the hearsay exception rule was violated significantly in my case.  But here are the appealable issues. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  But I'm talking about in terms of Congress holding an open hearing, an ethics hearing on you, what's the resistance?  What are they going to say? 

TRAFICANT:  I think what they'd be concerned about is that I am credible.  And they would be concerned about the impact I would have and that America would pay strict attention, and America would come to see what's happening with our government.  America won't like what's happening with our government. 

See, most people say, "What's for dinner, Martha?"  And they go along with it.  And in the old days, you can remember the IRS says we owe $20,000, and John says, "Well, I'm not going to pay that $20,000."  And Martha says, "John, I just talked to our accountant.  He says he could settle it for $8,000, and I want you to settle it.  I am afraid of the IRS."  That doesn't exist anymore.  Greta, we shouldn't fear our government.  We are the government. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  Congressman, you're facing a number of years in prison. 

TRAFICANT:  Yes, I am.  I'm going to live every one of them and get three square meals and have air conditioning.  And I want cable television.  And I want conjugal visits from Playboy bunnies. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  Do you think you'll get any of that? 

TRAFICANT:  That's just kidding. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  OK.  I know that.  But how many years do you realistically think you'll get? 

TRAFICANT:  Well, I think from the articles I'm reading in the paper where the judge says even though he treated me bad and disrespected me, I won't hold that against him.  And, look, I'm just tired of the bullshit. 

This judge knew what she was doing.  She denied me the right of a fair trial.  There was discriminatory action taken and participatory juror selection. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  So, how many years do you think you are going to get?

TRAFICANT:  I really don't care.  That's up to the judge. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  Give me an estimate.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

TRAFICANT:  I'll tell you what, I'm not going to flatter this judge.  Do whatever she wants to do.  She's done it already.  She's done what she wanted the government to do.  She has been a tool of the government. 


VAN SUSTEREN:  More of my exclusive with Congressman Traficant in a moment.  Also ahead, your feedback on the Congressman's interview so far.  E-mails have been pouring in since he first went ON THE RECORD Monday night. 

And later, it's OK to say "whorehouse," but saying "god damn" may get you in hot water in Texas.  Should a musical cast be forced to clean up blasphemous language if it's too racy for a small town? (NEWSBREAK)


VAN SUSTEREN:  Now with more of my exclusive interview with convicted Congressman James Traficant.  Does the congressman worry about prison time? 


TRAFICANT:  Why should I worry about it? 

VAN SUSTEREN:  Well, because it's going to happen.  It's likely.

TRAFICANT:  Can't I change it?

VAN SUSTEREN:  Well, you say you have good appellate issues, that you have all these...

TRAFICANT:  And I'm going to bring those appellate issues.  And I was thinking of using attorneys.  And after giving it serious thought, I have decided I am going the appeal my own case -- win, lose, or draw. 

And you know what?  My chances of winning are limited.  And I'm going to tell you why. 

I think we have an aristocracy in the judiciary, an aristocracy one that takes care of one another.  Second of all, this judiciary is very concerned of the oversight of the executive branch of the Justice Department.  And I think we've got a dog chasing its tail in America's system of freedom. 

And I think we've got to change it, Greta.  I don't know.  I might play a part in that.  I think an open Ethics Committee hearing the American people should demand.  This they should want to know why.  And they should want to hear my answers.  And they should want to hear what type of questions I'm going to be getting from the politicians, because the politicians could just come out and have a closed-room meeting with Jim Traficant, make a recommendation on the floor, have a vote for expulsion.  But if the American people hear what's happening and know what's happening in the court, I may still go to jail.  But maybe the courts and the system of justice of American jurisprudence will change. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  Do you think this judge will keep you out on bond pending your appeal?  You're to be sentenced...

TRAFICANT:  I can, listen, I don't expect this judge to do a damn thing for me.  And let me tell you something.  I really didn't disrespect her.  I challenged her.  I challenged her because she was wrong. 

And she discriminated against me in that courtroom.  And I'm a firm believer in equal rights.  And whether or not you're a man or a woman, the constitution treats us all the same. 

I believe I am entitled to a new trial because there was, in fact, gerrymandering of the jury pool.  Second of all, there was prosecutorial misconduct at the highest of levels that she disregarded.  Third of all, they're continuing to make deals.  Fourth of all, they had tainted the voir dire with having me involved in a conspiracy to commit murder where a woman is now considering filing a lawsuit against the federal government for her husband having a stroke and her health being lost. 

Come on here, Greta.  I mean, how the hell else can you destroy a guy?  $150,000 barn, but then it's never brought up at trial because they found out it was paid, and the guy came and admitted to me that they forced him to lie, and he didn't want to lie and may not lie.  And then his girlfriend the next day was taped and said, "Yes, he called me and told me, and he told me he told you the truth, and that he may even go to Cleveland and tell the truth."  They don't call him. 

Henry Nemitz (ph) is his name.  And I want the community to know that Henry Nemitz is a great American.  He has a pair of -- well, he's still in the entire.  Let's put it that way.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Since the jury verdict, has any member of Congress reached out to you? 

TRAFICANT:  Yes.  A couple have. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  Who?  Who are your friends? 

TRAFICANT:  I don't really want to get into who has reached out to me because then it may be people saying I have some support or don't.  From what I understand from what "Roll Call" is writing about is they have enough votes to expel me.  And I think if they have enough votes to expel me, I'd say this, the Congress don't really know what happened in the Traficant case. 

And I think if Congress would expel me before an opportunity for an appeal, I think they will have done themselves a great disservice because they will have allowed basically the Congress of the United States to be set aside like a stepchild in a separation of powers. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  The way that you've explained this over the course of our interview is that it was politically motivated, that the judge denied you a fair trial.  And we've gone through...

TRAFICANT:  Look, anybody who is convicted is always innocent.  I'm not getting into that.  Here's the thing...


TRAFICANT:  I'm no choir boy.  I never opened their evidence boxes.  And they can shove it up their asphalt.  That's it. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  Did you ever take kickbacks? 

TRAFICANT:  No, I didn't.  And that came out at the trial.  But she didn't allow that testimony to come forward. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  Did you ever have employee, staff members of Congress, working on your farm?

TRAFICANT:  Some of my employees came out to the farm voluntarily on their own time.  They wanted to.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Why did they testify against you?

TRAFICANT:  One thing that I did, and I made a big mistake on, one of the guys that had immunity on my staff I found out had a problem with the FBI in an investigation on a payoff where he helped fix a DUI case.  And I felt that they had no evidence, so I didn't bring it up.  And I'm not going to mention the game now, but I should have.  And I should have gone for his damn throat.  There's nobody on my staff who was ever compelled to do anything wrong. 

Another thing that bothered me is one of my good staff members thought I was trying to influence his grand jury testimony when I was really trying to influence him as my press spokesperson relative to a political election, not his grand jury testimony.  And that hurt me because it was taken the wrong way.  And I can understand that point. 

I have nothing -- I had no concerns.  I knew they had no evidence. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  You weren't worried at all?  You weren't worried at all?

TRAFICANT:  I didn't open the boxes. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  So, you thought going into this trial was easy?

TRAFICANT:  I knew they could have no evidence against me. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  So, what happened?  When the verdict was returned, what went through your mind? 

TRAFICANT:  Well, when I heard what the jurors said outside, that the first vote was six-six, I think the swaying factor was probably a couple dominant jurors.  And there's some talk that there may be one juror that was close to this judge.  We don't know that yet.  We're looking into a few things.  But the fact that they felt I disrespected the judge had a great impact on their decision. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  But through in your mind, when that verdict came back guilty, as you're standing there in that federal courtroom, what went through your mind? 

TRAFICANT:  That an individual in America was convicted of a RICO charge on circumstantial evidence at best.  And in a criminal case, you as a defense attorney know that you must have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.  And I could not believe that 12 jurors, 12 jurors, could not see that. 

But now that I look back, these 12 jurors didn't see seven witnesses that would have testified to the things, the salient points I'm talking about.  They didn't hear nine tape recordings that I will sell someday. 

So, if I go to jail, I'm going to do a book.  And this book with the Demenic (ph) mater, with my first trial, and the mob, and that whole thing that I know about the mob -- I know how the mob works.  The mob is cool. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  You say if you go to jail.  Do you have any doubt in your mind...

TRAFICANT:  What I mean by "cool" is they're slick.  And they control much of our government, much more than you know.

VAN SUSTEREN:  But you say if you go to jail.  Any...

TRAFICANT:  I will go to jail.  I am going to go to jail.  I know that as a fact. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  Any thought about what jail is like?

TRAFICANT:  This judge will send me to jail.  And I don't expect any judge in America to give me a fair chance. 

I am a political target.  They don't like my politics.  They don't like the way I feel about the Mid-East.  They don't like the way I feel that Arab-Americans I believe have been discriminated against.  I have nothing against Israel.  But we're too one-sided.  And people don't like Jim Traficant's politics, period. 


Click here to order the entire transcript of the April 24 edition of On the Record.

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