A federal judge in Brooklyn today rejected a request by attorneys for Rep. John M. Murphy (D-N.Y.) that three videotapes of Murphy talking to undercover FBI agents be made public to counter articles by syndicated columnist Jack Anderson. The columns are scheduled for publication next week.
Murphy was indicted June 18 with Rep. Frank Thompson Jr. (D-N.J.) and two other men on bribery and conspiracy charges. Murphy and Thompson are expected to stand trial around the end of September.
Attorney Michael Tigar argued that the protective order ties Murphy's hands, just before the Sept. 9 New York primary, in responding to the columns and the expected criticism from Murphy's opponents.
Thomas P. Puccio, the chief prosecutor in the Abscam bribery trials, said that releasing the tapes would "defraud" the voters in Murphy's 17th District because the videotapes -- made Oct. 20 and Nov. 8, 1979 and Jan. 10 of this year -- are only part of the government's case. He suggested that the Justice Department be allowed to release all the evidence against Murphy if Tigar's request is granted.
Though he said he was "strongly drawn toward the appeal" of the Murphy's argument, U.S. District Court Judge George C. Pratt ruled that preserving the right to a fair trial codefendant Howard L. Criden, who opposed releasing the tapes, outweighed Murphy's interests in a fair political campaign.
Tigar said he would appeal Pratt's decision to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the hope that the tapes could be televised with Murphy available for questioning by reporters, before the primary.
Today's request by Tigar was the latest move in a strong public relations campaign Murphy has waged against the government since his involvement in Abscam was publicly disclosed Feb. 3.
The congressman has held news conferences at nearly every court appearance he has made, and has demanded release of the tapes, Tigar said, for possible use as TV campaign ads. Tigar contends, for instance, that the tapes show Murphy "telling off" an undercover FBI agent who offers him money.
In an affidavit attached to his motion, Tigar said he was told by Gary Cohn, a reporter for Anderson, that he had received copies of 150 Abscam tape transcripts from government sources. Pratt said he assumed that the leaks did come from the government, and he questioned whether Anderson's publication of the sealed material might be viewed as contempt of court.
In the last month, Anderson has written several columns that he said were based on Cohn's review of the Abscam tapes.
In making his ruling, Pratt said: "In no way am I going to be placed in a position of being the controlling valve on how much information is to be released in a political campaign."
The court of appeals in Manhattan previously stayed a Pratt order that videotapes of an alleged $50,000 bribe transaction with Rep. Michael (Ozzie) Myers (D-Pa.) be made available to the television networks.
In a related development, Pratt set Sept. 15 for the Abscam bribery trial of Rep. Raymond F. Lederer (D-Pa.). Attorneys in the case said the trial is likely to last two weeks. Thus, the Murphy-Thompson trial probably will not begin until late September.