A plot against him?

July 18, 2002

HE'S VULGAR. He's abusive. He has been convicted of trading favors with businessmen who made repairs at his horse farm and extracting salary kickbacks from his aides.

They just don't make many congressmen like James A. Traficant Jr. anymore. If the House boots out the Ohio Democrat, as expected, he'll be missed.

The entertainment factor in the blow-dry world of Capitol Hill has already declined sharply since Mr. Traficant went on trial early this year and stopped showing up for House sessions.

Sure, part of the attraction was his trapped-in-the-'70s wardrobe of cheap polyester suits with bellbottom pants. And the hair! A gray thatch sticking out at angles that defy gravity and scream "bedhead."

But tirades have been his greatest gift to House watchers. No predictable political platitudes for him. He'll say anything.

He talks about bodily functions and his private parts. He describes IRS officials as "nincompoops." He calls former Attorney General Janet Reno a "lesbian traitor."

Mr. Traficant's hearing this week before the Ethics Committee -- featuring tales of his exploits with Playboy Bunnies aboard a houseboat -- has enthralled earnest interns who can't quite believe their ears.

A former Youngstown, Ohio, sheriff who fancies himself an average Joe standing up to an elitist establishment, Mr. Traficant once had a certain populist appeal. He was wary of foreign intrigue against the United States long before it became fashionable.

But his refusal to bow to congressional leaders urging him to resign rather than face expulsion now seems like an X-rated version of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. He claims he's the victim of a government conspiracy to get rid of him -- and will run for re-election from jail, if necessary.

Who would possibly want to pull the hook on this act?

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