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Interview With James Traficant

Aired February 4, 2002 - 19:30   ET




REP. JAMES TRAFICANT (D), OHIO: When it's all over, I'm either going to jail or they're going to jail.


PRESS: The trial of Ohio Congressman James Traficant.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I helped killed policemen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was just having fun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I helped the bomber get a fake passport.


PRESS: The government's $3.5 million Super Bowl ads.

And pigging out. Our analysis of the new federal budget.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE in Cleveland, Ohio, Democratic congressman James Traficant. And then drug enforcement administrator Asa Hutchinson and Keith Stroup of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

PRESS: It's CROSSFIRE. Thanks for joining us. On the House floor, he's famous for saying "Beam me up, Mr. Speaker." But tomorrow it may be, "Beam me up, your honor," when Ohio's colorful Congressman James Traficant steps into a federal courtroom to defend himself once again against charges of corruption.

The Justice Department accuses of him taking cash and free work in return for helping out local businessmen. Traficant says the government's got a vendetta against him and he's filed a countersuit.

So what will Traficant tell the judge? How will he defend himself? Here's a sneak preview. Tonight in the CROSSFIRE, for a dress rehearsal, Congressman James Traficant -- Tucker. TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Congressman Traficant, thanks for taking the time out of your pre-trial schedule to join us. We appreciate it. Now you filed a motion last...

TRAFICANT: Don't call me names here.

CARLSON: Well, not that you deserve them. But you filed a motion last Wednesday that accused the government of something remarkable. You said in this motion the government had used powerful threats and intimidation that might bring about the loss of life by means of suicide or willful provocation of stress. It sounds to me like you're accusing the government of trying to kill you. Do you think the government wants you dead?

TRAFICANT: No, not necessarily me. There's tremendous amount of pressure on me, but the government has reams and reams of prosecutorial misconduct that has been very frivolously overpassed and overlooked by this judge.

Now let me say something. And this isn't self-serving. Too many people fear our government. We have government of the bureaucrats, by the bureaucrats, for the bureaucrats. Everybody's afraid to death of them. Even the judges appointed to lifetime terms are afraid to death of them. And I don't like going through this.

But you know, I've had it. And I'm going to just stand up and face the charges. But there's one fellow that said if he didn't have two kids, he'd have blown his head off. There's other people that have come forward and given me tapes and said that their loved ones said that if they didn't go along with the government script, they were going to lose all their money and they were going to have their life wrecked.

So I have been targeted for some years, being the only American in history to have the feet of the Justice Department in Rico case. And the judge says I can't even use that vendetta, that obsession as a defense. So...

CARLSON: Well, wait...

TRAFICANT: I'm really under the gun here pretty much so. But I'll tell you what, I'm going to look them right in the eye. Go at him.

CARLSON: Let me ask you a question. Your critics -- you made reference to the 1983 case against you, federal case against you. You were sheriff in Youngstown, Ohio at the time. And one of your deputies testified at that time that you tried to get him to shoot you and make it look like a mob hit.

Now A, is that true? And B, is that an example of pre-trial theatrics, the kind your critics accuse you of waging now?

TRAFICANT: If that were true, why didn't the government just go ahead and subpoena those people and bring them forward and use it? I don't want to get into back old trial. They got beat. They got their ass kicked. They were very upset about it. They have a score to settle. And I'm going to face them again.

Now I'm not here talking like a big shot. Anybody in my position would be afraid to death. And I'm very frightened of this very powerful government, who has the judge on their side. But I'll tell you something, I will show up in court. I will defend myself. And there's going to be a Donnybrook in Cleveland, Ohio because I believe the American people have to take their government back.

I love the Congress and elected officials. But quite frankly, Congress doesn't govern any more. They don't.

PRESS: All right, congressman, let's talk about this trial, the one that takes place tomorrow.

TRAFICANT: I don't want to talk too much about this trial. Wait a minute. Wait a minute.

PRESS: I'd to just get you to respond to the charges, OK, if we can?

TRAFICANT: Wait a minute. Hold it.

PRESS: I haven't even asked you a question yet.

TRAFICANT: I had a problem with a table saw. I don't want to talk too much about this trial because the government has asked this judge to violate my Sixth Amendment right by appointing counsel for me.

PRESS: Congressman?

TRAFICANT: And I don't want an attorney representing me. I want to represent myself.

PRESS: All right well then, you're representing yourself. You'll have no problem with this question. There's a man by the name of James Sabateen (ph).


PRESS: Who has pleaded guilty. He says he gave you $2,400 as a bribe to get access to a local railroad spur. And there's another man by the name of John Cafaro (ph), who has pleaded guilty. He said and his partner, Richard Torey, I guess, gave you a bribe to get some kind of an aviation contract. These -- both of these guys say they gave you bribes. Both of these guys say they're going to testify against you, congressman. I mean, I don't have a dog in this fight, but it looks like they got the goods against you this time.

TRAFICANT: They got a lot of goods against me, but let me ask you something.

PRESS: Well, is that true or not?

TRAFICANT: No, hear me. You asked me a question, didn't you?

PRESS: I did.

TRAFICANT: The one fellow would go to jail for 15 years and have to lose about $10, $15 million. And all he had to do was say he gave Jim Traficant money and he wears a wrist bracelet and saves all his money. The other fellow says he gave Jim Traficant money. His daughter's not going to be indicted, his company is not going to be audited, and he's not going to be charged with perjury in another case.

PRESS: So you're saying...

TRAFICANT: When this trial comes out, and all the facts come out, I'm not going to say any more except bring it on. I'm very comfortable with the case.

PRESS: So you're saying these are former friends of yours and they're lying?

TRAFICANT: They're still very good friends.

PRESS: Is that what you're saying tonight, that they're lying?

TRAFICANT: Let me say that they're friends of mine. And you know what? I don't blame them for the pressure they've gone through. The government has taken them, twisted them, scared them to death, threatened them, intimidated them, suborned perjury. And when it's all over, look, if they don't convict me, listen to what I'm saying, Bill, they're going to go to jail. They're going to go to jail because they have suborned perjury in this case. They have suborned perjury in a lot of cases. They've gotten away with crimes.

The judges are afraid of these people. Appointed to lifetime terms. Everybody's afraid of them. And it' time we stand up against them. That's all I'm saying.

CARLSON: Now Congressman Traficant, you demanded a couple weeks ago to know whether any of the potential jurors in this upcoming trial were Jewish. Why did you want to know that?

TRAFICANT: Well, it wasn't just Jewish, if they belonged to any Jewish organizations. I'm the congressman that in fact conducted the investigation that freed John Deminjiak (ph), who was accused of Ivan the Terrible.

Now look, he wasn't Ivan the Terrible. And Israel taught us a lesson on justice and actually put him on a plane with me to bring him back home. John Deminjiak (ph) was not Ivan Terrible. And it was my investigation that in fact freed him.

Many Jewish people thought that I was an anti-Semite for looking into that case. That is a significant point. So I want to know if they belong to any organizations who may have targeted me.

The American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee targeted me in 1991. Number one was President Bush. Number two was James Baker. Number three was Jesse Jackson. Number four was James Traficant. I think these are reasonable questions. I want to make sure that there's a jury. And let me tell you, if Deminjiak (ph) happened to be a Jewish fellow, I would have represented him as well. But I think it was a sad tragedy in American history that an American family couldn't go to anybody for help because their case was sensitive. Do we waive the constitution because the case is sensitive, Bill?

PRESS: Let me ask you this, congressman. You were in trial once in 1983. You represented yourself. You were acquitted. Now you're back. There have been charges in between time. Now you're back in 2002. Guilty or innocent? And let's say you're innocent of all the charges. Wouldn't the people of your district still be served better by somebody who's not so often in trouble with the law?

TRAFICANT: Absolutely not. By the way, they redistricted and tore my district apart. So they...

PRESS: Are you going to run again?

TRAFICANT: They have torn the district apart. They have me up here on federal trial. The government wants to get rid of Jim Traficant. Let me tell you something. I changed the burden of proof in the civil tax case. Now you're innocent until proven guilty. They can't take your home without a warrant. I dropped, in fact -- my legislation dropped seizures of homes from 10,060 to under 50 a year. I am not liked by the IRS. I am not liked by the FBI. I am not liked by the Treasury. I am not liked by the courts. And you know what? Quite frankly, I don't give a damn.

PRESS: So are you going to run again?

CARLSON: Well, that's a lot of enemies. And it raises the question, Mr. Traficant, and be honest here, what do you think the odds are?

TRAFICANT: What do you mean be honest? I thought if you are going to talk to me, you're going to be honest. What the hell you saying be honest for?

CARLSON: I want you to be candid in response to the following question.

TRAFICANT: I've been candid enough, quite frankly.

CARLSON: What do you think the odds are that you'll wind up in an orange jumpsuit behind bars? Do you think you are going to go to jail?

TRAFICANT: Well, most of the TV and analysts say I have 1 and 20 million shot. I'll tell you what I think. I think my shot's better than that. And all I know is this. I'm going to get in their face. I don't like them. I don't like what they've done to our country. I don't like how they scare people. I don't like how they intimidate people.

Judges appointed to lifetime terms scared to death of these people. These bureaucrats run America. And Congress better take America back for the American people. See, I'm just the son of a truck driver. And I'm going to try to kick their ass. That's candid as I can be.

CARLSON: Well, that is very candid.

TRAFICANT: That's candid.

CARLSON: And we wish you all the luck in your trial tomorrow, congressman. Good luck. I hope you return to CROSSFIRE to tell us how it turns out.

TRAFICANT: Well, 10 or 11 minutes isn't enough for me to return again. If you want me back, you better have me on for a half hour.

CARLSON: Call me at home, we'll talk about it. Thanks, congressman.

When we return, is your teenager funding international terrorism? If he does drugs, yes. That's the new message from the federal government broadcast in Super Bowl ads last night. Is it fair? We'll ask the head of the DEA. Back in a moment.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I help blow up buildings.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My life, my body.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not like I was hurting anybody else.


CARLSON: That's what tens of millions of football watchers saw last night when the Super Bowl went to a commercial break, new ads produced by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. It cost $3.5 million to run.

It's implication is clear. If you do drugs, you're supporting terrorism. It's a message sure to resonate with a nation fighting terror at home and abroad. But is it accurate? Are low level users really funding the bin Ladens of the world? Or is the message merely heavy handed propaganda?

A smoking debate tonight. Joining us, Asa Hutchinson, head of the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration and Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws -- Bill Press.

PRESS: Keith Stroup, I know you know I'm no fan of the war on drugs. But let me talk to you about this ad. If your goal is to reach the largest possible audience, particularly to reach young people and others who might be customers or potential buyers of drugs, you want to get out a tough message. You want to get the most bang for your buck, right, in television.

Now other than advertising on CROSSFIRE, of course, wouldn't you say that the Super Bowl is a place to spend your money and this was money well spent?

KEVIN STROUP, NORML FOUNDATION: If it were true, if it were a campaign based on facts and science, I might agree with you. But in fact, I think it was a colossal waste of taxpayer money. Is there anyone who truly believes that illicit drug use patterns in this country are affected even in the slightest way by government propaganda?

If they were, frankly, after 65 years of reform ads of this government propaganda, there wouldn't be any marijuana smokers left. And think for a second what we could have used that money for to pay Headstart programs or textbooks or women who need prenatal care.

Secondly it is absolutely inaccurate, considering 65 percent or two out of three of all illicit drug users in this country are simply marijuana smokers. Well, marijuana is primarily grown in the United States. It's homegrown. And that that is imported comes from Canada, from Mexico and from Jamaica. Those are not terrorist countries, Bill.

PRESS: But I think you missed the entire point of the ads, which was that the connection between drug money and terrorism. You know, the Justice Department has said that 14 of the 28 organizations identified as terrorist organizations, which are active in this country, are funded by illegal drug sales. So you may not know it, but when you're buying the joint, aren't you in fact perhaps supporting a terrorist organization?

That was the message. Speak to that.

STROUP: But that is my point. That is an inaccurate premise. When you buy marijuana, you are either supporting someone who grows it in this country or in Canada or Mexico or maybe Jamaica. Those are not terrorist supporting countries.

It's as if you blame beer drinkers during the 1920's for the violence associated with Al Capone. It is -- this campaign is really an attempt to demonize drug users. And they do it by trying to piggyback an unpopular program, the war on drugs. 74 percent of the American public say it's a failure. They're trying to piggyback it on a more popular program. And in so doing, they are in fact demonizing drug users. So they don't have -- real quickly, so they don't have to justify whether these laws do more harm than good.

CARLSON: OK, now director Hutchinson, I'm not for legalization. But I have to say I think these spots are a waste of $3.5 million. So you know, you're the average 11th grade dope smoker. And you see this on television. And you think, they've told me that drugs fry my brain. They told me that, you know, drugs are bad for my health, that drugs are bad for America. Now they're saying that drugs help terrorism. It's going to be laughed right off the set. They're not going to take this seriously, your target audience. ASA HUTCHINSON, DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATOR: Well, I think the fact that we're here debating this issue shows that the ads work. The whole design of an ad during a Super Bowl campaign is to provoke and debate in America. Here, certainly, the ads were factual because it said that using drugs might support terrorism.

Secondly, they're provocative, create a debate. If it causes one parent and one teen to have a discussion about drug use, then I think it's certainly worth it. Obviously the ads are the beginning of a campaign that John Walters, OMDCP, is putting forth. It's going to have more ads, more debate on this.

We had a symposium at the DEA, talking about the historic link between terrorism and drugs. And that linkage is clear from history. It is very, very current. And America understands that. And it could be a helpful means for parents to show the risk, to discourage drug use.

CARLSON: Now I -- you know, this is no slur on John Walters, a terrific guy, very smart, very capable person. But the ad itself is ludicrously overdrawn. And I hope you'll agree. Look, if I said everybody who buys goods made in China, and virtually everyone buys goods made in China, is responsible for the totalitarianism in China, or for slave labor, or for their policies towards inmates, you would say well that's not fair. The average consumer isn't responsible for those policies. The Chinese are.

Terrorists are responsible for terrorism. Dope smokers are responsible for smoking dope.

HUTCHINSON: Terrorists are responsible for terrorism. But at the same time, we have to look at where they get their money. We don't speak in absolutist terms. The ad refers to might support terrorism. The whole idea is to cause a young person or anyone who uses drugs, to think, think about not only the damage to yourself, the fact that it's illegal, the consequences of it, but also the linkages.

Whether you talk about the Middle East, Colombia with the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), whether you're talking about southeast Asia, you are looking at historic links with terrorism. And in fact, the 20 some groups on the State Department's terrorist organization list, almost half of them are linkages to drug use. So it's something we have to think about.

PRESS: Well, let's get into this war on drugs here. Keith, I want to get you back in just a second. I got to turn to the director here, because I'm really glad you're in the position you are. Because I know what a conservative you are. And I know as a conservative, you're opposed to great big, bloated government programs that cost a lot of money and don't work.

Asa Hutchinson, we've been at this drug wear since 1980. And Nancy Reagan said, "Just say no." We spend billions and billions of dollars on it. The same amount of drugs are coming into this country. People are still using them. There are new drugs on the market. Big articles in the papers about it this weekend. Are you ready as a conservative to say here it is. One, big bloated government program, cost a lot of money, doesn't work, pull the plug, make history.

HUTCHINSON: Let me it answer it this way with the survey on household drug use.

PRESS: 74 percent say it doesn't work.

HUTCHINSON: In the last 15 years, there's 9.3 million fewer regular monthly drug users. That's 9.3 million fewer users. And so, that's the facts. Those are the facts. Certainly we need to make more progress in this. But if we can reduce drug use by 9.3 million overall, cocaine use in last 15 years by 75 percent, we're making enormous progress. And a lot of it comes because of the ad campaign that Congress is funding $192 -- $180 million dollars this year. And we get young people where they listen.

CARLSON: Now Keith Stroup, let me just ask you. There's a connection between terrorism and drugs. And at least one, and it's come about this way. With all the attention on American borders, it turns out a lot more drugs are turning up. In the last -- between October and December, twice the amount of cocaine was seized at the U.S.-Mexican border as the year before. That's a good thing, isn't it?

STROUP: Well, no, I would not say it's a good thing. I think...

CARLSON: The cocaine should have come in the United States?

STROUP: I think drug prohibition is a failed public policy, regardless of how many Super Bowl ads Mr. Hutchinson...

CARLSON: But was it a good idea to seize the cocaine or should it have gone through?

STROUP: It's fine to seize the drugs. The mistake is to treat the drug users as criminals. They are not. If in fact they have a problem, it's a medical problem. We need to provide help.

Prohibition wastes an enormous amount of law enforcement resources that should be focused on serious and violent crime. It invites government into areas of our private lives that totally inappropriate.

And number three, it's sadly destroys the lives and careers of literally hundreds of thousands of genuinely good citizens every year in this country for no good reason.

PRESS: Gentlemen, the drug war may not be over, but it's over now at least for this part of the show. Keith Stroup, thank you for joining us. Sorry we're out of time. Congressman, I still want to call you Asa Hutchinson.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you.

PRESS: Good to have you back on CROSSFIRE. And next, shifting gears. Do you realize you're getting fat? And you're paying for it? When we come back, Tucker and I are going to tell you all about the fat in the president's new budget. Get ready to pork out.


CARLSON: Still feel full from last night chips and dip? Get the antacid. We've assembled a list, not by any means complete, but you'll get the point on some of the fattiest pork nuggets now making their way through the congressional digestive track.

If that's not a revolting enough metaphor, here's a selection. First up, and this is no surprise, Senator Fritz Hollings of South Carolina. Senator Hollings is a pork machine, a one man political vendoring plant. And he's not embarrassed about it either. He brags about it constantly. In that spirit, Senator Hollings has secured $190,000 federal dollars for the Motor Racing Museum in Spartanburg, South Carolina. No word yet on how much money is going to that state's most important tourist attraction, the south of the border truck stop on Interstate 95.

PRESS: And last year, speaking of pork, Senator Richard Shelby delivered $1.5 million in pork for a facelift on the giant statue to Vulcan. He's the Roman god of metalwork. And that statue hovers over the city of Birmingham, Alabama.

Well apparently, Vulcan had more wrinkles than we originally thought because this year, Shelby has added another $2 million. A lot of money for a statue that nobody outside of Birmingham, Alabama gives a fig about.

CARLSON: Harry Reed is an important member of the U.S. Senate. So it's no surprise that his state, Nevada, receives 50 specific items in the current budget, worth a total of $146 million. But my favorite, $1 million for the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas. Next time you're in Vegas, forget the slots. Head to the Testing Museum. You've already paid for it.

PRESS: Big bang in Las Vegas. And you'll be happy to know you're paying for this. $1.6 million to Midland College of Midland, Texas to teach safety to future oil and gas workers. I thought that was an oil company's job. But I do know one former Midland, Texas resident and oil executive who will consider that money well spent.

CARLSON: And now for the weirdest appropriation prize goes to the formerly proud state of Oregon, whose congressional delegation won a $2 million grant for something called the Ground Fish Outreach Program.

What's a ground fish, you ask? Technically, it's one of 83 species of fish that live at or near the bottom of the ocean, all of which apparently badly need outreach. But for the purposes of Congress, a ground fish isn't a fish at all. It's the other white meat.

PRESS: And those fish aren't at the bottom of the ocean.

Now here's my favorite, $250,000 more to the island of Maui for keeping that stupid sea weed off its beaches. But I do believe this project deserves unanimous support from Congress and I look forward to being named director of the Maui Beach Seaweed project. Have Speedo, will travel.

Well, if you add them up in just a minute and a half, Tucker and I just saved you all a little over, there it is $7 million. Give us another 24 hours, Tucker, we could balance the budget. Bring back the surplus. What do you think?

CARLSON: What do I think?

PRESS: Put us in charge.

CARLSON: I think -- hold on. Let's rewind the script event to the "have Speedo, will travel." Speedo. The word rings in the ear, Bill. I can't get it out of my mind. Say it isn't so. No Speedo, please.

PRESS: I'm on my way, Tucker.



CARLSON: Bill, you're freaking me out. Speedo, really? I can't get that image out of my mind. It's burned in there like a branding iron in my brain.

PRESS: Maui seaweed. Put me in charge.

CARLSON: No, Speedo is all I see.

PRESS: From the left, guys, good night for CROSSFIRE. I'm Bill Press. See you tomorrow night.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night, Tuesday night, for another edition of CROSSFIRE. See you there.

PRESS: In the Speedo.

CARLSON: And Speedo.




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