In an otherwise horrible news week punctuated by the death of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion, terrorist bombings in the Middle East, not to mention a steady decline of the Dow, Rep. James Traficant (D-OH) provided comic relief, although he was not as amused as the rest of us.
A member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the congressman faces expulsion for ethics violations stemming from his convictions on bribery, tax evasion and fraud. Expulsion requires the approval of two-thirds of the 435-member House. The House could vote as early as next week.
The only other member ousted since the Civil War was Rep. Michael Myers (D-PA). He was expelled in October 1980 for accepting money in the Abscam investigation from undercover FBI agents posing as Arab sheiks. Traficant has insisted on his innocence and complained bitterly that he's been set up too, in what he called a government vendetta.
Serious stories about Traficant's claims may come to light. Meanwhile, the tone of the congressman's comments elicit a wry smile, not unlike quotes from the late actor Robert Mitchum. Sound improbable?
Consider: When asked what it was like in jail after serving time for marijuana use, Mitchum said, "You meet a better class of people there."
Traficant last week pondered the pokey: "I will probably go to jail, but you know what, there are a lot of good people in jail. You're looking at a man that may be re-elected from a prison cell."
Mitchum on Mitchum: "I've still got the same attitude I had when I started. I haven't changed anything but my underwear."
Traficant on Traficant: "I have friends in low places, and the people of this institution have never supported me ... The congressional delegation I was elected to actually said that they didn't want me. I don't think anybody wanted me.''
In an unlikely departure from his gritty movie roles, Mitchum once recorded a record called "Calipso - Is Like So."
Meanwhile, the flamboyant Traficant has threatened to wear a denim suit and do a "Michael Jackson moonwalk" on the House floor when the time comes to defend himself.
Finally, Traficant on the future: "I can run. I can operate and function as effectively as any member of Congress from behind bars.''
And Mitchum on his past: "The only difference between me and other actors is that I've spent more time in jail."
-- Dick Larsen, senior editor