A Washington lawyer with a Ph.D. in linguistics thinks a close examination of conversation patterns on the Abscam tapes could bolster acquittal arguments of some defendants appealing their convictions.
"What is important about the tapes is that these are not normal conversations," says Mary Gallagher, a lawyer whose background in linguistics made her curious about the conversations between undercover government agents and some of the politicians ensnared in the Abscam caper.
"As a linguist, I know it is relatively easy for one party ... to produce almost any impression on a transcript of the conversation," argued Gallagher in a recent Legal Times article.
Gallagher says the article led to calls from several lawyers working on appeals for Abscam defendants, including an inquiry from one of the lawyers representing Sen. Harrison Williams of New Jersey. Williams is scheduled next month to make a major effort to convince the Senate ethics committee that, despite his Abscam conviction, he should not be expelled.
In the Abscam cases, Gallagher suggests a linguist work from original tapes (some of the transcripts have gaps and errors in transcription) and highlight distortions in the conversations brought on by the government's zeal to coax incriminating statements from politicians.
Gallagher says while some of those convicted in Abscam seemed amenable to accepting a bribe, others, including Williams, repeatedly turned down illegal suggestions and may have been convicted simply "for keeping bad company." Gallagher says unsophisticated juries listening to tapes filled with references to corrupt practices tend unconsciously to tie the defendant into the scheme--even if the defendant seems reluctant to participate.
"People sidestep in many, many ways, especially politicians," says Gallagher. "They make a sympathetic utterance without agreeing to anything-- that's a political speech pattern."
It is true that Washington almost lost the Hirshhorn Museum because the late Joseph Hirshhorn first wanted to build it in a small Canadian mining town?
Yes, Hirshhorn helped to develop a uranium mine in Blind River, Ontario, and if the city had agreed to change its name to "Hirshhorn," the millionaire art collector could well have built his sculpture museum there. He once told Stephen Banker, in a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation interview, that Canada, Italy, Israel, Switzerland and France wanted his collection. "I like the Canadians, and Canada has been good to me," Hirshhorn said, "and I wanted to be good to them." But Blind River wouldn't change its name, so Hirshhorn looked south to Washington. Hirshhorn died last August at the age of 61.
Didn't Kermit the Frog, the world famous Muppet, get his start on Washington television?
Yes, the creator of the Muppets, Jim Henson, grew up in Hyattsville. He met his wife in a University of Maryland puppetry class and together they began a five-minute, late-night puppet show on local television called "Sam and Friends," starring Kermit the Frog. After moving to New York in 1962, the Hensons' puppets began appearing on "The Today Show" and the rest is show business history.