WASHINGTON – Congressman James Traficant, flamboyant and defiant to the end, faced a historic expulsion vote Wednesday in the House for using his office to extort bribes and kickbacks.
Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, asked for the expulsion vote to be delayed until Sept. 4, saying the vote should be taken "in a climate that is not as political as the one we find ourselves in today."
However, the ethics committee's chairman, Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., and the panel's senior Democrat, Rep. Howard Berman of California, urged lawmakers to proceed with the vote Wednesday night.
"I feel like there's an elephant beneath my ascot," Traficant said as he walked over to the House chamber, just before Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., turned the House's attention to the resolution calling for the convicted Ohio Democrat's expulsion.
Passing a House Appropriations committee room and accompanied by reporters, he looked in and shouted: "I still want appropriations for that 17th District or I'll come here out of that jail and get you."
Known for his colorful clothing, wild hair and arm-waving theatrical rants against government prosecutors and tax collectors, Traficant vowed earlier to fight ejection from Congress with every fiber of his being.
"It's not time for me to go quietly in the night; I'm still a lion," he said on the eve of a vote that would make him only the fifth sitting House member in the nation's history to be kicked out of Congress, and only the second since the Civil War.
The House allocated Traficant 30 minutes to make his case on the House floor before his congressional colleagues voted on his fate. He had requested a lot more time — eight hours.
Traficant, 61, has insisted on his innocence since a federal jury in Cleveland convicted him in April on racketeering, bribery and tax evasion charges. Portraying himself as the victim of a government vendetta, he has claimed repeatedly that witnesses in his trial lied under threats of reprisal from the Justice Department, FBI and Internal Revenue Service.
At least one lawmaker, Ohio Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette, who describes himself as a friend of Traficant, planned to ask the House to delay the expulsion vote until Sept 4.
LaTourette expressed concerns about testimony last week by Richard Detore, former chief operating officer of U.S. Aerospace Group, who told the House ethics committee that federal prosecutors tried, without success, to pressure him to lie to win Traficant's conviction.
Detore did not testify at Traficant's federal trial, and at least one of the jurors has said he would have voted to acquit Traficant of all charges if Detore had told the jury what he told the ethics panel.
Traficant's conviction followed a nine-week trial on 10 counts of racketeering, bribery and tax evasion. Although he is not a lawyer, he defended himself in court against accusations that he took kickbacks from employees, encouraged the destruction of evidence, solicited bribes and other gifts from businessmen and filed false income tax returns.
Federal prosecutors have recommended Traficant serve at least 7 years in prison on the criminal charges. Sentencing is scheduled for Tuesday.
After the conviction, a House ethics panel found him guilty of ethical violations and recommended unanimously that he be expelled from Congress.
Despite his Democrat label, Traficant has few allies in his party. For years, he has angered fellow Democrats by voting with Republicans on many bills and helping to elect Republican Dennis Hastert as speaker. His district was cut up in the Ohio reapportionment, and he was the only House member this year without a committee assignment.
The last time the House expelled a member was in 1980, when Rep. Michael Myers, D-Pa., was kicked out for accepting bribes from FBI agents posing as Arab sheiks trying to change immigration law.
In its 213-year history, the House has expelled just four members, including three who were charged with treason during the Civil War. It takes two-thirds of the voting members of the 435-member House to approve expulsion.