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Civiletti told the judge the misdemeanor no-contest plea was "fair and just."
Bringing Helms to trial, he said, "would involve tremendous costs to the United States and might jeopardize national secrets." Helms, moreover, had "performed outstanding services to the United States Government" during "a most distinguished career."
On his lawyer's advice, Helms made a personal plea to Judge Parker. During his Senate testimony, he said, "I found myself in a position of conflict. I had sworn my oath to preserve certain secrets . I didn't want to lie. I didn't want to mislead the committee. I was simply trying to find my way through a very difficult situation in which I found myself." Helms said he nonetheless agreed with the charges against him, although he understood "there is to be no jail sentence and I will be able to continue to get my pension from the U.S. Government."
Parker thereupon jolted Helms, Wil-iams and Civiletti by declining to wrap up the deal right then and there. When Williams demurred, Parker asked: "You had hoped that I would sentence him today?" Replied Williams: "Both the Government and I had hoped that you would do that." The judge was not to be hurried. "Well, Mr. Williams, I am like a ship without a rudder. I am a fish out of the sea. I do not have any report or anything to aid me in sentencing."
Four days later, Parker's courtroom was jammed with reporters and spectators as he made his decision. The judge came on like a tiger, scolding Helms. "You now stand before this court v in disgrace and shame ... There are those employed in the intelligence-security community who feel that they have a license to operate freely outside the dictates of the law No one, whatever his position, is above the law." Then Parker turned pussycat. He meekly accepted the prearranged deal, fining Helms $2,000 and suspending a two-year sentence. Outside the court, Helms declared: "I don't feel disgraced at all." Added Williams: "He is going to wear this conviction like a badge of honor. He'll wear it like a banner."
The plea bargain came under immediate attack. Said Democratic Senator
Frank Church, chairman of a Senate committee that had probed CIA activities in Chile: "I thought there was to be an end to the double standard of justice for the big shots. Apparently, Helms was just too hot to handle." Republican Senator Howard Baker, a member of the Church committee, was more sympathetic. The case, said Baker, was "handled about as well as it could have been under the circumstances."
Helms' sympathizers argued that the ex-director was the victim of a change in the rules in the middle of the game.