Sen. Harrison A. Williams Jr. (D-N.J.) was depicted at his Abscam bribery trial as "a corrupt public official" who promised to use his influence in Washington for what he thought was a $12.6 million secret share in a titanium mine.
George J. Koelzer, Williams' attorney, said of the government's case: "It's a fraud, a sham, a fake, a lie, a disgrace."
Koelzer said Williams, 61, until January chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, may have been "fooled" by "the malignant imagination" of undercover FBI informer Melvin Weinberg.
But Koelzer said the government's secretly recorded videotapes will show that Williams wasn't corrupt and had rejected an offer of money for immigration help.
Koelzer also used his opening statement to attack the credibility of Henry (Sandy) Williams, a friend of the senator who was granted immunity and will be a key government witness in the case.
It was Sandy Williams, who is not related to the senator, who was searching for financing for a titanium venture near Lynchburg, Va. Koelzer described him as a "sad sniveling failure in life" who had lied to keep from being indicted.
In his opening before the jury at U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, federal prosecutor Edward McDonald outlined a series of five videotaped meetings between Sen. Williams and the undercover agents from June 1979 to January 1980. He said the government will show that Williams.
Promised to help obtain government contract for titanium and to take the matter to the president.
Accepted hidden shares accounting to 18 percent of the venture, and agreed to continue his aid even after a planned sale of the mine for a $70 million profit.
Talked of setting up a blind trust to hide his interest in the mine.
Pledged to aid an undercover FBI agent posing as an Arab sheik with an immigration problem.
Denied, when the covert operation ended and he was confronted by FBI agents, that he had any financial interest in the venture.
McDonald acknowledged that the defense would challenge Weinberg's actions, "but look at the tapes," he told the jury. "Does Harrison Williams reveal himself -- a U.S. senator for 22 years -- as the kind of man Mel Weinberg could lead around by the nose?"
The case of Williams and co-defendant Alexander Feinberg, his longtime personal attorney, is the last in the controversial Abscam investigation, which has resulted in the conviction of six House members.
It wasn't clear what defense Williams and Feinberg would use, though Koelzer and Harry Batchelder, Feinberg's lawyer, spent much of their time attacking the government's conduct rather than explaining that of their clients.
Batchelder, for instance, talked about "manufactured" crimes and the "inducement" of huge loans from the fictitious Arabs. This seemed to lay the groundwork for an entrapment denfense, through neither he nor Koelzer used the word.
McDonald said the senator, Feinberg, 73, and two other conspirators originally sought $13 million for the mining venture with the idea of selling titanium dioxide to paint companies, but later "shifted gears" in hopes of selling titanium sponge, from which comes the light, strong, heat-resistant titanium metal used to make missiles, planes and submarines.
Koelzer countered that the tapes will show that Weinberg brought up the idea of seeking government contracts and concealing William's interest as a way to get the senator.
"Mel was thinking, 'I got a shot at a U.S. senator,'" Koelzer said.