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Perhaps you noticed that Rep. Jim Traficant, D-OH, was not among the 31 dissenting Democrats favoring a wide-ranging impeachment inquiry.

This was surprising, given the fact that Traficant has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Clinton White House in either party.

Just a few weeks ago, for instance, he took to the House floor to denounce the White House’s misuse of FBI files.

“Let us tell it like it is,” he said in one of his patented, fiery, one-minute speeches. “The same White House that destroyed Billy Dale, the same White House that called Monica Lewinsky a liar, the same White House that abandoned Lani Guinier is on the attack. It is time to ask, Congress: How many files of American citizens were illegally transferred from the FBI to the White House and who ordered it? Are you on the list? Are you on the list? Am I on that list?”

He defended his Republican colleagues in the House who were then under siege from the Clinton spin machine and concluded: “It is time for the House of Representatives to tell the White House that their `spin to win’ could provoke `the move to remove.’”

Earlier, Traficant had this to say: “If Joe Q. Citizen lied in a civil trial, he would be sued for every penny. If Joe Q. Citizen lied to a grand jury, he would go to jail. Lying is perjury. Perjury is a crime. Now, having said that, what is going on here, Mr. Speaker? Does America now have two legal standards, one for you, one for me; one for he, one for she; one for generals, one for soldiers; one for presidents, one for residents? Let us tell it like it is. Joe Q. Citizen cannot apologize, Joe Q. Citizen is not censured, Joe Q. Citizen is prosecuted. And let me warn Congress: An America with two legal standards is an America with no legal standards.”

Pretty damning. Not much doubt about where Traficant stood — at least in September. But there’s more.

“Mr. Speaker, this Monica matter is serious, but it pales in comparison to the reports that the White House was bribed with Chinese money,” he said in one my favorite speeches. “Unbelievable. I don’t know if it’s true, but I know one thing. Janet Reno has turned her back on both the American people and the Constitution. Let’s tell it like it is. Janet Reno should either lead or get out of the way. I say to my colleagues, Monica is a fly on her face. This Chinese money is a dragon eating her assets. I say, Janet Reno has two decisions to make. One is to appoint an independent counsel to scrutinize and investigate this madness, or number two, Janet Reno should resign. I urge my colleagues to think about it.”

Now, what I would like to know, is how does a politician who purports to think like that vote against a wide-ranging inquiry of impeachment of President Clinton?

Oh, I heard him try to justify himself and his vote on the Rush Limbaugh show. It was a pathetic performance. In Congress the rubber meets the road when it comes time to vote. And Jim Traficant took a powder on what was, to date, the most important vote of his political career.

The question nobody seems to be asking is “Why?”

We know that Clinton is running a dirty tricks, secret police, black operations campaign against his enemies. We know that there was much political pressure placed on Democrats to keep the defections to a minimum. What we don’t know is what Traficant got for his vote — or, how he was threatened or blackmailed into impotent submission to a White House he has consistently denounced.

Those really are the only two choices that seem plausible. Traficant either has some serious skeletons in his own closet or he sold out.

In any case, this flip-flop is just another illustration of why we should never, ever put our faith in politicians — even colorful ones like Traficant.

Maybe it is time to beam him up — or at least out of the House of Representatives.

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