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As greedy politicians at lower levels of government rushed to get their share of Abscam's bribe money, the FBI's operation was getting too complex and expensive. The agents had promised to hand over more money in bribes than they could deliver. At some point the spigot had to be turned off. "We found people climbing all over each other to get some of the action," claimed one FBI official. "We were mystified."
The FBI decided to shut the operation down on Saturday, Feb. 2. The agents knew that a number of news organizations had heard rumors about the sting and were about to break the story. They asked reporters for these organizations to hold off until some 100 agents could complete a rush of windup interviews on that Saturday.
NBC-TV had been dogging the story for two monthssetting up two Winnebago vans near the FBI's W Street hideaway, photographing visitors through tinted windows. The crews could not turn heaters on in their vans be cause that would fog up the windows. "It was so cold the orange juice froze on a couple of nights," said one benumbed NBC reporter.
Neighbors had called police about a suspicious vehicle, but a quick-witted reporter shooed officers away by protesting: "What's the matter with you guys? You're screwing up our investigation." An NBC van was parked near Williams' home in Washington even before the FBI agents came to inform the Senator that he was a subject of investigation. And so the Senator's look of surprise and dismay appeared on prime-time television.
The most detailed early reports were in Long Island's Newsday and the New York Times, the latter's report apparently based on an internaland normally secretJustice Department document called a prosecution memo or "pros-memo." That is a prosecutor's chronological summary of a mass of FBI evidence, and copies are sent to relevant FBI officials. The published details of the Justice Department's information brought howls of protest from Congress and also from the American Civil Liberties Union. Attorney General Civiletti was outraged too; he promised a thorough internal investigation to find the leakers. The flood of pretrial publicity could jeopardize any prosecution the Justice Department tries to bring. But one veteran of such internal Government probes called them "fools' errands."
The leaked prosecution memo later turned out to be unfair in making no distinctions of any type among the potential bribery cases. Civiletti told the Senate Ethics Committee that some of the cases were sure to