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Published: Tuesday, 6/5/2001

Blowing smoke?

Ohio U.S. Rep. James Traficant, facing federal racketeering, bribery, and conspiracy charges, has come out with some goofy material he calls evidence of corruption in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the agency that helped indict him.

The man has a long history of blowing smoke in the face of criminal charges, the better to divert attention from them.

So his production of what purports to be partial wiretap transcripts and a section of a 1988 testimony by a mob boss noting corruption in the FBI - with agents taking money or otherwise cooperating with mob bosses - might, in happier days, have been more easily ignored.

But we're also mindful of all those documented FBI fiascos - from the persecutions of Richard Jewell and Wen Ho Lee, from the cosseting of FBI spy Robert Hanssen, from failing to turn over all investigative reports in the case of domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh, and from the shenanigans in the FBI's forensic lab. So an uneasy feeling about this once-stellar agency competes with our cynicism about Mr. Traficant's anti-FBI rants.

He might be right.

The bottom line is whether this corruption, if it exists, has any bearing on the sins that the federal government has laid at the door of the slippery former sheriff of Mahoning County, who was acquitted of similar charges several years ago.

It is not at all clear that the two are in any way connected, that even if in 1988 there was FBI corruption of the sort Mr. Traficant outlined, there still is today, and that, if it exists, it in any way impinges on the case against Mr. Traficant.

If he is sending up a smokescreen, it is up to the authorities, and the public, to see past it and stay focused.

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