WASHINGTON – Ohio Rep. James Traficant should be expelled from the House for ethics violations stemming from his bribery, tax evasion and fraud conviction, a House committee decided unanimously Thursday.
The full House now will have to vote on whether to accept the recommendation from the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. Expulsion requires the approval of two-thirds of the 435-member House.
If expelled, the nine-term congressman would become only the second member of Congress to be kicked out since the Civil War.
The House could vote as early as next week, officials said.
The only other member ousted since the Civil War was Rep. Michael Myers, D-Pa., who was expelled in 1980 for accepting money from undercover FBI agents posing as Arab sheiks seeking favors from Congress in the Abscam investigation.
The ethics committee debated Traficant's punishment in its Capitol basement offices for about five hours before its lawyers delivered a statement to reporters. "The committee voted unanimously to recommend to the House that Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. be expelled," the statement read.
The lawyers would not answer questions.
"It's been one of the most unpleasant experiences I could ever recall having," said GOP Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio, a committee member and Traficant friend, before the verdict was announced. "I say anyone who says they liked the experience, whether they liked or disliked the congressman, needs to see a psychiatrist."
The last time the House ethics committee recommended expulsion for a member was in 1988, when it unanimously suggested that Rep. Mario Biaggi, D-N.Y., be kicked out after his conviction for racketeering, extortion, bribery and other charges. He resigned before the House could vote him out.
Like Myers, Traficant will get at least 30 minutes to defend himself in front of the House before the vote. The always flamboyant congressman has threatened to wear a denim suit and do a "Michael Jackson moonwalk" on the House floor when his time comes to defend himself.
Traficant, who has insisted on his innocence and complained bitterly about what he called a government vendetta against him, anticipated the worst from the 10-member House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.
While professing his innocence, Traficant said he expected to be expelled "because I think Congress does not like difficult positions."
Traficant complained bitterly about what he called a government vendetta against him, as well as alleged misconduct by the federal courts and the Justice Department.
"I've broke no laws. If you expel me, I will go down in history as an expelled member," said Traficant, who wore a rumpled Western-style white denim suit with a blue denim shirt in front of the committee. "But you know what, I have a very clear conscience. I am proud to be an American. I hate the government but I love America."
Traficant told the committee that he has appeals of his conviction pending. "You could possibly expel a member that gets a new trial and make you look like a bunch of fools," he said.
"If I am to be expelled under these circumstances, then God save the republic and God save the Constitution," Traficant said in impromptu news conference before the penalty phase of the hearing began.
The ethics committee's lawyer, Robert Walker, said Traficant's conviction and ethic violations were crimes of "the most serious nature."
"These violations unequivocally call for only one response from you, a recommendation that the House expel Rep. Traficant," Walker said.
An eight-member subcommittee of the ethics panel found Traficant guilty of nine of the 10 ethics violations connected to his conviction in federal court. The 10th count, an allegation that the other charges represented a "continuing pattern" of misconduct, was dismissed.
Federal prosecutors have recommended Traficant serve at least 7-1/4 years in prison on the criminal charges. Sentencing is scheduled for July 30.
The 61-year-old Traficant, who is not a lawyer, represented himself in court and before the panel against charges that he took kickbacks from employees, encouraged the destruction of evidence, solicited bribes and other gifts from businessmen and filed false income tax returns.
Traficant insisted that all of the criminal trial witnesses lied and were forced to do so under threat of reprisal by the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service.
He contends the government has been waging a vendetta against him since 1983, when he beat the FBI in a bribery case, also while defending himself. Traficant, then a county sheriff, used the victory to propel himself to Congress.