Archive for Wednesday, February 6, 2002

Congressman defends self on charges of corruption

February 6, 2002


— Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., the maverick congressman known for his scorched-earth rhetoric, arm-waving theatrics and loud polyester suits, went on trial on corruption charges Tuesday, defending himself without the benefit of a law degree.

"I'm like a mouse looking up at an elephant asking the elephant to surrender, quite frankly," the nine-term Democrat told ABC's "Good Morning America" before entering the federal courthouse.

U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells warned Traficant to behave inside the court and out. "This trial is not going to be a donnybrook," she said, using a term Traficant himself had used.

As jury selection got under way, Traficant immediately objected to the closed-circuit television that allowed the public and media to watch from another room. The television did not show "the ambiance" of the trial, said Traficant, who is known for yelling "Beam me up!" on the House floor.

He also objected to a requirement that a non-attorney he wants to take notes for him be seated at the defense table.

The judge stood by the arrangements, saying, "That's the way we do it."

Traficant, 60, is accused of accepting gifts and favors in exchange for lobbying in Washington.

He is also charged with forcing his staff to make cash kickbacks to him or do favors for him at his horse farm.

The 10 charges of racketeering, bribery and other offenses carry a maximum of 63 years in prison and $2.2 million in fines. Traficant would not automatically lose his congressional seat, but the House could vote to expel him.

On CNN's "Crossfire" Monday night, Traficant said he was "very comfortable with the case" and demanded that prosecutors "bring it on."

Prosecutor Craig Morford said he was concerned that Traficant's media interviews were meant to influence potential jurors.

"I am asked the question and I simply respond," Traficant told the judge.

It is the second time that Traficant has defended himself against criminal charges. His acquittal in 1983 on charges that he took $163,000 in bribes from mobsters and filed a false income tax return while serving as a sheriff helped ignite his political career.

Traficant has angered members of his own party for years by voting with Republicans on many bills and helping to elect Republican Dennis Hastert as speaker. He is the only House member without a committee assignment.

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