How close did Rep. Jack Murtha come to accepting a bribe in Abscam? The full tape of his meeting with the FBI, now available for the first time, shows just how close!
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WEINBERG: You explain to Tony. Like I said, we’ll stay out of the room. I think that’s best. This way just the two of you knows. Hearsay. Let’s be a little cautious, alright? Better be cautious than sorry.
MURTHA: Yep, that’s true, that’s right.
Preferring hearsay over more witnesses suggests Weinberg wants to avoid evidence admissible in court. And Murtha agrees.
From the video, Murtha seems to warm to a separate deal, but gets cold feet when Amoroso and Criden disagree about who would get the money and what it was for. Late in the video, Criden and Murtha step away from the meeting room to speak privately. (This sidebar occurs at some point in the gap in the video between 12:30:30 and 12:32:50 on the timestamp.) Murtha and Criden walk back into the room:
MURTHA: Is that all right, Tony, let me make it very clear. The other two guys [Thompson and Murphy] do expect to be taken care of, as Howard. And you’re gonna have to deal through Howard. Me, you’ve got my deal. You know, so that’s, that’s, my deal is, is…
CRIDEN: We have a deal.
AMOROSO: Wait a minute, hold up, you know…I’m giving you…I’m giving you [points to Murtha]…see he’s, you know, we’re going round and around about this whole thing —
CRIDEN: You’re giving me, and I’m going to do what’s right with everybody…
Murtha watches Criden and Amoroso go back and forth. Amoroso is upset that he and Murtha cannot have a direct deal, without Criden and the congressmen. After a couple minutes of the bickering, Murtha stands up, buttons his coat, and says, “We’re going home. You deal with Howard. Howard, you do what you want to do.” It appears that Murtha loses interest at the same time as Amoroso: when they figure they cannot cut out the middlemen.
“Investments” in the District
Although Murtha maintains that he only intended to discuss “investment in my district,” the video and the cases of his fellow Abscam congressmen suggest that is a thin defense. First, most of the convicted Abscam congressmen, including Thompson and Murphy, argued that they were only meeting with the sheiks’ representatives to discuss “investments” in their districts. Rep. Raymond J. Lederer (D-Penn.) said after he was indicted that the FBI’s tape of his meeting “will show that I was there to bring investments” for his district. Rep. John W. Jenrette Jr. (D-S.C.) “testified that he was only trying to help his longtime friend… obtain a loan to salvage a munitions plant in [his] district and thereby save 500 jobs for his constituents,” according to a 1980 Washington Post report. Similarly, Rep. Michael J. “Ozzie” Myers (D-Penn.), who was convicted and expelled from Congress, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that any politician being promised heavy investments in his district would have kept dealing with the sheik’s agents.
Second, throughout Murtha’s testimony and the video, the investments and the money seem closely related, both for Amoroso and Murtha. While Murtha tells them that he is not yet interested in the money, he holds out investments in his district as the first step. Why? Perhaps so that the Arabs can prove that they are serious customers. And Murtha even seems to spell it out as a cover story:
As long as there is a business commitment, or an investment in the district, no one looks for the money. With that explanation, such investments appear to have dual purposes: good politics, and good cover.
At another point in the conversation, though, Murtha appears to restrict the deal to the Arabs placing money in banks in his district.
It is not clear where investments in the district end and the “walking around money” begins. But Thompson mentioned to Murtha the money as part of the investments and helping the Arabs on the floor of the House, and in his office before Murtha went to the townhouse.
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H/T to National Review Online