WASHINGTON – In an uphill fight to keep from becoming only the second House member expelled from Congress since the Civil War, Rep. James Traficant opens his second defense this week against the bribery, tax evasion and racketeering charges he was convicted of in court.
The Ohio Democrat, known for his wild hair, loud clothes and animated House speeches punctuated with an emphatic ``beam me up'' line from Star Trek, is making his first appearance in the nation's capital since his conviction in April by a federal court jury in Cleveland.
The forum is a House Ethics Committee hearing, opening Monday, on a formal allegation that the nine-term congressman engaged in a ``continuing pattern and practice of official misconduct'' as represented by his convictions on the criminal charges.
With his trademark cantankerousness, Traficant, 61, has continued to proclaim his innocence and vowed to oppose efforts by the House to take disciplinary measures against him, including expulsion
``I have no plans to resign,'' Traficant said after his conviction. ``I will not allow the government to get rid of Jim Traficant without a fight.''
Prosecutors have recommended that he serve at least 7 1/4 years in prison on the court convictions of taking kickbacks from staffers and bribes from businessmen. Sentencing is scheduled for July 30.
As he did in federal court, even though he is not a lawyer, Traficant is expected to defend himself before the eight-member ethics panel chaired by Rep. Joel Heffley, R-Colo., and including two fellow Ohio lawmakers.
``I leave it open that he may have help on limited technical matters,'' said his spokesman, Charles Straub.
Traficant, who is seeking re-election as an independent, has beaten the odds before. He triumphed over the FBI in a racketeering case in 1983, when he was a county sheriff accused of taking mob money. Acting as his own lawyer then, too, he convinced the Ohio jury that he was conducting an undercover sting operation. He was elected to the House the next year.
Under House rules, his felony conviction three months ago triggered an automatic investigation by the ethics panel. Expulsion is the harshest penalty, but the panel can recommend censure, reprimand or fines, all actions that require votes by the full 435-member House.
The ethics panel can call any witness it wants, and use any books, records or documents it deems necessary. Traficant is allowed up to 30 minutes for his opening statement after the full Ethics Committee's lawyer presents the case against him.
Each side is then allowed to call witnesses and rebuttal witnesses. Traficant would be allowed to cross-examine each witness. After all the testimony and evidence are weighed, the panel votes on each charge; if any charges are agreed to, it prepares for a sanction hearing.
Testimony is not usually allowed at that hearing, but an exception can be made through a majority vote by the full committee. The committee then decides what punishment to recommend to the House.
Expulsion requires the approval of two-thirds of the House members and has happened to only one congressman in the last 141 years: In 1980, Rep. Michael Myers, D-Pa., was expelled for accepting money from undercover FBI agents posing as Arab sheiks seeking favors from Congress.