The House ethics committee recommended, 10 to 2, yesterday that the full House expel Rep. Michael (Ozzie) Myers (D-Pa.) from Congress for taking a $50,000 bribe from undercover FBI agents a year ago.
If the House follows the recommendation in an expected vote next week, Myers would be the first member expelled since the Civil War. Three border state House members were expelled in 1861 for the treasonous act of joining the Confederacy.
The committee action yesterday followed about two hours of deliberation. Rep. Charles Bennett (D-Fla.), the committee chairman, told reporters after the vote that he thought the committee had considered Myers' case "very carefully, and very properly."
E. Barrett Prettyman Jr., the committee's special counsel, recommended explusion in his summation of the evidence against Myers, a 37-year-old former longshoreman from South Philadelphia. He showed the committee videotapes from the August trial in Brooklyn that resulted in Myers' conviction on bribery and conspiracy charges for taking the cash payment after promising the undercover agents he would introduce a private immigration bill for a supposed Arab "sheik."
"He used his influence as bait and barter to wring huge sums of money from those he thought could use his office," Prettyman told the committee. He said Myers' conduct made "a mockery of the seat in which his constituents placed him."
Prettyman also said Myers' explanation that he was only acting when he boasted of his influence on the videotapes was "a lie."
A lesser penalty "would be an insult to every principle for which Congress stands," Prettyman said. "This man must not remain one day longer than necessary as a member of this House. He must be expelled."
Myers testified in his own behalf, as he did at the Brooklyn trial. He acknowledged that taking the money was unethical but he continued to insist it was not criminal because he never had any intention of introducing a bill, as he promised. He said he would resign from Congress, if his appeals of the criminal conviction fail.
His attorney, Plato Cacheris, argued to the committee that "in fairness" they should follow a precedent they set recently in the kickback case of Rep. Charles Diggs (D-Mich.). Diggs was censured by the House, resigned when his appeals were unsuccessful and is now serving a prison term.
As part of Myers' defense, Rep. Austin Murphy (D-Pa.), not a committee member, urged the committee to let Myers' constituents have the last word in the coming Nov. 4 election. He said he, too, felt the congressman should be disciplined because of his conduct on the videotapes but that expulsion was too severe a penalty.
Rep. William Thomas (R-Calif.) thanked Murphy for his courage in defending Myers but added "the people of the 1st District of Pennsylvania don't necessarily own Mr. Myers' vote."
The two votes against expulsion were reportedly cast by Reps. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) and Louis Stokes (D-Ohio).
If Myers is expelled by the House next week, and then reelected in November, Congress would be faced with a question of how to treat him again next year. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (D-N.Y.) was refused his House seat at the start of a new Congress in 1967 after being found guilty of misusing $40,000 in congressional funds while chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. He won reelection in 1968 and was seated by the House in January 1969, though fined and stripped of his seniority.
The Supreme Court ruled in June 1969 that the House had violated Powell's constitutional rights as a duly elected member by refusing to seat him. But the court did not rule on the question of seating a member who had been expelled.
The House has not always followed the ethics committee's recommendations. During the investigation of South Korean influence-buying in 1978, for example, the House voted to reprimand, rather than censure, Rep. Edward Roybal (D-Calif.). The committee concluded that Roybal had lied about taking a cash payment from South Korean lobbyist Tongsun Park.
There was one new element raised yesterday about the FBI's Abscam investigation -- a meeting involving FBI undercover agents, Myers and then soon-to-be Rep. Raphel Musto (D-Pa.). Myers said yesterday that the undercover agents, who posed as representatives of the "sheik," continually "tortured" him to set up the meeting with Musto.
Musto, who succeeded Rep. Daniel Flood (D-Pa.) after he resigned because of corruption charges, said in a telephone interview yesterday that he went to the meeting at a Philadelphia hotel in late January to discuss a campaign contribution. But he said he left the meeting when it became clear the "sheik's" representatives wanted him to commit himself on future votes.
Musto said, and a Justice Department official confirmed, that he had received a letter clearing him of any criminal complicity. Prettyman said he was still examining the tapes of Musto's meeting with the FBI.