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Jury selection begins in Ohio lawmaker's corruption trial

CLEVELAND, Ohio (CNN) -- With jury selection beginning Tuesday in his federal corruption trial, U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. vows "there's going to be a donnybrook" as he faces charges that he describes as a prosecutorial vendetta against him.

"I'm going to look them right in the eye and go at them," the outspoken Ohio Democrat said Monday on CNN's "Crossfire." "I'm just the son of a truck driver, and I'm going to try and kick their ass."

Traficant, 60, a colorful maverick serving his ninth term in Congress, stands accused of misusing his congressional staff and accepting illegal gifts and services in return for performing political favors. Even though he is not a lawyer, he is representing himself in his trial in U.S. District Court in Cleveland.

He faces 10 counts, including bribery, tax evasion, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to defraud the government and racketeering.

On Monday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati denied Traficant's request to postpone the trial until it considers his appeal of the trial judge's ruling that allowed documents from his congressional office to be admitted as evidence.


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Traficant maintains that the documents should be excluded from the trial because of the "speech and debate" clause of the Constitution, which says that "for any speech or debate in either house, [senators and representatives] shall not be questioned in any other place."

But U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells ruled that the constitutional privilege doesn't apply to the documents because they are not records involving speeches, debates or legislative business protected by the Constitution.

Traficant, a former county sheriff, represents the 17th Congressional District, which includes his hometown of Youngstown and parts of three counties in northeast Ohio's Mahoning Valley.

Even without the federal charges, Traficant's political future remains cloudy. During reapportionment, the Ohio Legislature made major changes to the boundaries of the 17th District -- or, as Traficant put it, "They tore the district apart."

In 1983, while a county sheriff, he was brought up on federal bribery charges. During that trial, he also represented himself and was acquitted. Traficant said federal prosecutors are targeting him because he defeated them in court then.

"They got beat. They got their ass kicked. They're very upset about it. They have a score to settle," he said.

Accusing prosecutors of "reams and reams" of misconduct, Traficant said they had frightened some witnesses to the point that they were suicidal. However, a federal judge Friday dismissed a lawsuit he brought against prosecutors, which alleged that he had been unfairly targeted.

A political moderate, Traficant angered members of his own party this year when he crossed over to vote for Republican Dennis Hastert as House speaker. He was forced out of the Democratic Caucus and lost his committee assignments.

He is known for making colorful speeches on the House floor, many of which he end with the tag line, "Beam me up." His Web site features Traficant swinging a two-by-four emblazoned with the phrase, "Bangin' away in D.C."

Traficant's May 2001 indictment accuses him of accepting gifts and favors from several businessmen in his district, including a convicted felon, in return for interceding on their behalf with federal and state agencies. He also is accused of using employees from his office to perform work on his farm and boat as well as requiring them to return a portion of their salaries to him each month.

The indictment alleges that staffers baled hay, maintained horse stalls and performed other chores at Traficant's farm. In addition, he is accused of underreporting income on his tax returns and asking employees to destroy evidence and provide false testimony after he became aware he was being investigated.

The charges against him result from a lengthy federal investigation into public corruption and organized crime that also has ensnared the former director of his district office and one of his former advisers.

In October, Traficant was indicted on 10 additional corruption charges.


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