A combative Sen Harrison A. Williams Jr. (D-N.J.) continued today at his Abscam bribery trial to dismiss damaging videotaped statements he made to undercover FBI agents as meaningless "baloney." They were meant only to impress a phony Arab sheik into giving friends a $100 million loan, he testified.
Procedutor Thomas P. Puccio continued to aggressively attack the credibility of the senator's explanations of the same statements. During his daylong cross examination, Puccio time and again asked the senator why he continued to meet with the sheik's representatives and why he never said anything to disabuse them of the belief he would help get government contracts for the mine.
In one of a series of heated exchanges during the day, Puccio noted that during an Oct. 7, 1979, meeting, the sheik's front men mentioned how the senator would help get government contracts. "This gave you a grand opportunity to say 'What are you talking about? I'm not going to get government contracts.'"
The senator replied: "I had lots of opportunities to shatter the dreams of my friends and I didn't take them. Obviously, I should have a lot earlier." m
The 61-year-old former chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee is charged with conspiracy and bribery. The governments says he agreed to trade his influence in return for the loan and a hidden interest in the titanium mining venture. Alexander Feinberg, a longtime friend, is a co-defendent.
The senator continued to insist today that he had never used his office corruptly. "I didn't do anything wrong during this whole bizarre period -- I never did," he testified. "Foolish with a lot of words, but I never did anything wrong."
At another point, Puccio got exasperated when the senator seemed to change his answer about using his influence to help secure contracts. He first said it was "just plain hot air" when he said there would be "no problem" getting contracts. He then said "no problem" meant "there's not going to be any contracts."
"So it's not baloney, it's true, is that right?" Puccio asked. When Williams hesitated, Puccio continued: "Senator, if I said, 'You are a jackass,' and you said, 'That is right,' would you be agreeing?"
"I would agree with you," the senator answered as the courtroom audience burst into laughter. "I said I was foolish, maybe a dolt. . . . Believe me, I'm a Democrat so I'm not too uncomfortable [being called a jackass]." m
Puccio and Williams constantly interrupted each other during the cross-examination. At one point the senator said, "'let me finish," after Puccio broke in on a lengthy answer about a $1 million finder's fee the senator talked of receiving for arranging a loan to a casino at the Oct. 7 meeting.
Williams spent much of the day however, explaining that compromising statements were meaningless. "That qualified as baloney," he said of a statement at a June 28, 1979, meeting with the sheik where he said he was in a position to go "right to the top" to plug the value of titanium.
At another point in the same meeting, the senator acknowledged he was bragging of his position of influence. "Yes [that's true], in terms of the baloney session they persuaded me to engage in."
Puccio asked the senator several questions about the $372,000 house he bought in Georgetown in late 1978 in an attempt to show that the senator needed money to pay off debts during his 1979 meeting with the sheik and his representatives. But the senator continued to insist that he never considerd he had a personal, financial stake in the mining venture. The one interest he had, he said, was to make it the safest mine in the country.
When Williams finished testifying late this afternoon, the defense rested its case. He told reporters that he felt good about his four days of testimony. "I don't feel beat up. I may look beat up, but I don't feel it," he said.
U.S. District Court Judge George C. Pratt said attorneys will give their summations Tuesday and the jury should begin their deliberations Wednesday.