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Congress, opponents of legalized casino gambling felt vindicated in their long-held cynicism about the ability of public officials to keep such high-stakes operations honest. Not only had one member of the New Jersey casino control commission apparently been caught taking a $100,000 bribe to help the FBI'S sheik get a casino license, but the FBI promptly notified the four remaining members that it wanted to interview them too about just how free the commission is from criminal influence.
The Abscam tapes allegedly also record Senator Williams boasting that he had used his influence with the commission to save one group of hotel developers $3 million, apparently by getting the commission's approval to renovate rather than rebuild a structure housing its casino. The company Williams had helped had employed his wife Jeanette, first as a director, then a consultant, paying her $18,000 a year. At the same time, Mrs. Williams served full-time at a $33,000 salary on the staff of the Senate Labor Committee, of which the Senator is chairman.
The events in Abscam's aftermath will certainly stretch out for months, probably even years. First the relevant Justice Department prosecutors must decide just which of the roughly 30 cases to pursue by seeking grand jury indictments. The department's plan seems to be to split up the cases, rather than consolidate them, and then present evidence to grand juries in New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. Any trials of indicted officials would be months awayand there could be lengthy legal clashes over the admissibility, for example, of the FBI's video tapes.
Meanwhile, committees in both the Senate and the House may well continue to demand that the evidence against the members of Congress be yielded by the Justice Department. There is not much likelihood that they will succeedand without such cooperation they have little or no case against their suspect members.
Actually, some of the Abscam victims might prefer to be judged by their colleagues in Congress rather than by criminal trial juries. Declares Leon Jaworski, who has been on both sides of such interbranch conflicts, as special Watergate prosecutor and special counsel to a House committee probing the Korea bribery scandal: "Congress has never done a very good job of investigating itself. The House committee should defer to a speedy and thorough investigation by the Justice Department."
Was Abscam an operation in which the FBI'S actor-agents got carried away by openly offering bribes and urging their acceptance? Justice Department attorneys admit that a few leading questions by agents might turn up on the many tapes, but they insist that the entire procedure was too closely supervised to be seriously tainted. For one thing, the