Abscam: The DOJ's War Against America's Political Leadership

by Mary Jane Freeman

Printed in the American Almanac, August, 1998.

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How is it possible that a small group of bureaucrats in the Department of Justice can get away with ripping up the Constitution, and carrying out political witchhunts against those whom their bosses in the financial oligarchy want to get rid of? The story begins two decades ago.

A series of Abscam/Brilab frameup trials beginning in the late 1970s terrorized the Congress by targetting, particularly labor leaders and local constituency-based politicians--the political base of the members of Congress--leading up to the forced resignation of an innocent Sen. Williams in March of 1982. This turning point--the cowardly capitulation of the United States Senate to the Justice Department's Gestapo-like offensive against the institutions of our republic--led directly to the arrogant lawlessness of the DOJ today.

Only now do we see this process begin to turn around, as members of Congress, prodded by LaRouche movement organizers, are finding their backbones again. We see this in the upsurge of support in the Congress for the McDade-Murtha ``Citizens' Protection Act,'' in which at least 200 members of Congress--as of this writing--have joined as co-sponsors, in an effort, finally, to put an end to the outrageous and anti-Constitutional behavior of the DOJ and its prosecutorial tentacles.

The following article, adapted from EIR, Aug. 25, 1995, is intended to provide ammunition for those who wish to join the fight.

Abscam was the code name for a series of DOJ-FBI frame-ups which set out to unseat dozens of congressional leaders who were the backbone of the nation's business-industry-labor alliance for progress. Its success played a significant role in accelerating the destruction of the U.S. economy.

On the eve of the U.S. Senate vote in September 1981, on whether to expel Senator Williams, LaRouche wrote:

``Proven innocent of all specific crimes alleged, [Senator] Williams ... was framed, openly and shamelessly, by the worst lot of judges and prosecutors seen in English-speaking law since the bloody assizes of the 17th century.

``...If a United States senator can be fraudulently charged and convicted in the manner Sen. Harrison Williams has been, no private citizen is safe from even more monstrous injustice imposed by sheer caprice of judges who are corrupt.

``...The [Senate] `Ethics Committee' [which had recommended Williams's expulsion] has condoned a large-scale, willful effort to destroy the constitutional authority of the Congress of the United States. It is sufficiently documented that the operation usually known as Abscam-Brilab targeted preselected members of Congress for frame-up, a virtually treasonous action launched under the auspices of former Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti to the included intent of breaking the will of Congress.

``Does Congress have the morality to exonerate Williams?''

Paving the Way for the British Policy

The DOJ-FBI Abscam operation was only one piece of a broader operation aimed against America's business and industry leaders and labor unions. What EIR readers today know as the British monarchy-headed Club of the Isles's ``post-industrial'' agenda to dumb-down the population with outcome-based education-type schooling, to deregulate industry and banking, and to impose depopulation programs (see EIR, Oct. 28, 1994, ``The Coming Fall of the House of Windsor''), could not have taken root in the United States had the DOJ-FBI witch-hunts of the late-1970s and 1980s not succeeded in ousting or terrorizing the nation's political and labor leaders.

Abscam targeted Congress. Operations Pendorf and Brilab targeted labor, especially the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA), and the International Laborers Union (ILU). Operation Frühmenschen (``early man'') singled out African-American elected and public officials for ``investigation'' and prosecution. Operation Ill Wind targeted America's defense industry. The political agenda of the DOJ bureaucrats, to eliminate pro-growth constituency leaders, succeeded in making way for the quick-buck speculators, corporate takeover moguls, and deregulators of the 1980s and '90s.

The modus operandi used in these government scams went like this: Starting with a preselected list of elected officials, labor leaders, and businessmen, the FBI would go to them attempting to solicit criminal activity. An FBI undercover sting-man--usually a convicted criminal from the Federal Witness Protection Program (FWPP), overseen by one of the most important of the permanent bureaucrats, Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Keeney--would pose as a representative of a wealthy Arab businessman (Abscam), or as an insurance salesman (Brilab), to lure unsuspecting legislators into accepting bribes in return for legislative favors or influence-peddling. The bait these scam artists dangled was the possibility of investments in the lawmaker's district or a better deal on insurance policies for state programs, saving the state millions of dollars. With the FBI videotapes rolling, these FWPP crooks-for-hire, who had been given immunity for their crimes, would say anything in an effort to get a legislator to take a bribe--or at least ``agree'' to take one. If it was refused, then the FBI-directed sting-man was to tell the target that unless he accepted the money, the investment project was off. This, the FBI agents said, was ``the Arab way.'' Or, in the case of Brilab, ``the company's way of showing its appreciation.''

Aiding and abetting these scams were a bevy of ``investigative reporters'' whose ``news'' stories would appear in outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, or NBC-TV Nightly News. The routine use of Justice Department ``leaks'' by these lap-dogs fostered the witch-hunt climate. If nothing else, such leaks would help convict the targets in the public eye. (One wonders whether the FBI's adoption of an ``all Arabs are sleazy'' attitude to aid their scam, didn't come from the Anti-Defamation League, because relations between the ADL and FBI were particularly close at this time.)

The abuse of the ``investigative techniques'' employed by the FBI's convicted con-artists only came to light 18 months after the Abscam railroad had demolished the careers of numerous political leaders in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Federal District Judge John P. Fullam issued a blistering attack on the Justice Department's operations, in his opinion overturning the Abscam convictions of two Philadelphia politicians. Judge Fullam found that the conduct of the DOJ hit-men was so overreaching and ``outrageous as to amount to a violation of due process.'' In particular, Fullam found the effort to lure their victims into the appearance of a crime, did not ``ferret out crime,'' but rather, had the undercover agents ``initiat[ing] bribe offers.''

In most cases, the targets were not predisposed to commit a crime, but rather were ``coached'' on what to say for the FBI video camera, which fit a pre-existing script devised by the prosecutors who were out to bag their quarry--no matter what. Star Abscam con-man Mel Weinberg, when told he should refrain from doing this, retorted, ``If I can't do that, we won't make no cases.'' The evidence of outrageous conduct had been suppressed by the DOJ during the trials. David Margolis, who headed the Organized Crime and Racketeering section at the DOJ and is a close collaborator of key DOJ permanent bureaucrats Deputy Assistant Attorneys General Mark Richard and Keeney, ``overruled'' objections of two New Jersey prosecutors who wrote a memo to Department headquarters exposing the outrageous entrapment techniques of Weinberg. Philip Heymann, who was then Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division, also suppressed evidence of FBI wrongdoing in testimony to the House Judiciary Committee on March 4, 1980 when he said, ``I know of no case where an agent has gone out and tried to persuade a political figure to take a bribe.'' Heymann and Margolis appeared at recent congressional hearings on Whitewater, both fueling criticism of the Clinton White House.

The U.S. Senate Capitulated

LaRouche's 1981 warning to the U.S. Senate queried whether the legislators had the ``adequate moral fiber'' to stand against the tide of ``consensus'' calling for dumping Williams, noting their support for policies of deindustrialization, deregulation, and population control. Such behavior, LaRouche wrote, was ``merely consistent with the accelerating erosion of our nation's moral fitness to survive.'' Calling on their conscience, LaRouche reminded them:

``Each member of Congress is morally responsible for whatever consequences ensue from each decision--personally accountable morally--and if that person is moral, must act on the basis of reason and conscience even if he or she is a minority of one in Congress or party. That is the quality of representation the citizen of a republic has a right to expect; that is the quality of representation those citizens ought to demand.''

Despite the shortcomings LaRouche described of the then-sitting Congress, he hoped that,
``if a majority of the Senate could muster the morality of practice to repudiate [the Williams expulsion resolution], that courage to go against the `prevailing consensus' would mean a revolution in morality within the Congress.''

In March 1982, during the five-day Senate debate on his expulsion, Williams, whose innocence gave him the courage to fight the railroad, brought into the open the dirty deeds of the DOJ witch-hunt against him. New Jersey's four-term senator challenged his colleagues to investigate the ``Department of Justice and the FBI's'' efforts to ``instigate and foster criminal activity where none existed.'' He warned that if the ``illegal, unconstitutional, and ethically repugnant ... tactic goes unchallenged, tomorrow ... it could become an Executive method to control and intimidate this sovereign branch of government.''

Three senators, John Melcher (D-Mont.), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), and Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) came to Williams's defense. A fourth, S.I. Hayakawa (R-Calif.), supported censure instead of expulsion. On the sixth day, March 11, 1982, Williams, seeing the cowardice of the majority of his colleagues, resigned rather than allow ``the Senate to bring dishonor to itself by expelling'' him.

Clearly, the ``revolution in morality'' that LaRouche had hoped for, didn't occur, and the abuses of Abscam were never halted.

The Senator Williams project was the pinnacle of the DOJ's ``white collar crime'' big-publicity cases. The will of elected officials was broken, and the citizenry capitulated to the media hype that ``all politicians are corrupt.'' Ever since, this DOJ ``plumbers unit'' has had carte blanche to hunt down hundreds of elected officials, labor and business leaders, the defense industry, scientists, and average citizens for frame-ups, blackmail, and media smear-jobs.

As of 1981, nearly 18,000 Americans had been convicted of white collar crimes or racketeering, and that just as a result of operations during 1976-79. The permanent DOJ bureaucrats such as Philip Heymann, Mark Richard, David Margolis, and John Keeney, in coordination with the J. Edgar Hoover-types at the FBI, had changed the priorities of our justice system from fighting crime to creating crime. For example, in 1975, the DOJ's federal convictions for drug-related crimes were 8,135 cases, but by 1978, these had been halved to 4,299. Yet, in fiscal year 1979, the DOJ opened up 81,000 ``white collar crime'' investigations. The next year, 23% of the FBI's investigative manpower was devoted to pursuing white-collar crime. Meanwhile, in 1980, the United States was hit with a cocaine epidemic due to increased trafficking.

By the time these and many, many other government-run scams had taken their toll, the nation's trucking industry, shipping industry, and banking industry were deregulated and our nation's commitment to the elderly, health care, and education had been eroded. Key leaders in Congress and many state legislators had been hounded out of office. For example, Sen. Williams had championed the interests of the elderly and labor. At the height of the Abscam operation against him, he and Sen. Melcher were preparing to introduce legislation prohibiting the astronomical interest rates imposed by Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker. Every one of the congressional Democrats under attack had been strong opponents of deregulation, until they were put in the Abscam crosshairs.

In the state of Washington, the entire Democratic Party leadership, led by key national leaders of the pro-nuclear faction of the conservative wing of the party, such as U.S. Sen. Warren Magnuson and Rep. Mike McCormack, left office in the wake of a federal-state operation aimed against the state legislative leadership. In Texas, Speaker of the House Billy Clayton, a national leader and recognized expert in water management, was a prey. Up and down the East Coast, from New York to New Jersey to Maryland, longshoremen, teamsters, and laborers, i.e., the union workers who made possible the delivery of goods from our ports and factories, were left leaderless as the government-created cases against the heads of these unions.

The Assault on Local Leaders

In the late 1970s, the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee (SPIS) helped the DOJ ``pick their targets.'' The SPIS staff director at the time, William Goodwin, revealed, ``We identified the weak points, Teamsters and Longshoremen leaders who could be hit.... We had the profiles of the people who could be broken. Now the FBI goes in and sets them up. It's like a duck shoot.'' Not hiding the political agenda, Goodwin concluded, ``Brilab will give credibility to the charges that parts of organized labor are in fact run by organized crime.... The FBI will produce some indictments. They will scare some people. Then Congress will come in and mop things up. We intend to break the power of the Teamsters, the Laborers, and the Longshoremen all over the country.''

By 1977, a handful of FWPP convicted felons were employed to ``sting'' or entrap hundreds of labor leaders. Among them were: Anthony Scotto, ILA general organizer, framed up and convicted in the Brilab scam; IBT President Frank Fitzsimmons, who was forced to testify before SPIS, after which the DOJ and Labor Department eventually maneuvered to take over the IBT Central States Pension Funds; and IBT vice presidents Roy Williams in Kansas City and Jackie Presser in Cleveland, a target of Operation Pendorf. By the mid-1980s, the DOJ had put the IBT into receivership, running its finances and supervising its union elections. The unions had been broken.

Simultaneously, constituency leaders of state and local governments were pursued. In each case, these civil servants were supporters of labor and were crucial to what used to be known as America's delivery system. For example:

  • Camden, N.J. Mayor Angelo Errichetti, driven from office because of an Abscam conviction, was a staunch supporter of the development of nuclear power as a means to attract new industry to the city's port, which he sought to modernize. Federal funding fell through, and Errichetti turned to the FBI's phony Arab sheikh for money to build the city.

  • Philadelphia City Councilmen George Schwartz and Harry P. Jannotti, driven from office by an Abscam prosecution. Federal Judge John P. Fullam overturned their convictions, finding that they had been the victims of a government scheme ``designed not to expose municipal corruption, but merely to ascertain whether, given enough inducement, city officials could be corrupted.'' Later, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals overruled Judge Fullam, reinstating the convictions, but not without objection from Judge Ruggiero Aldisert, who was also a sitting member of the Third Circuit court. Aldisert's dissent was an impassioned plea for the country to reject Abscam for the police-state methods it employed.

  • Texas Speaker of the House Billy Clayton beat his Brilab frame-up, but only after having his name dragged through the mud and paying tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

  • Washington State Senate Majority Leader Gordon Walgren and Speaker of the House John Bagnariol, who were framed up in a joint FBI state police operation called Gamscam. The two were the state's most outspoken supporters of labor, and opponents of banking interests which were seeking to have the usury law rewritten to allow interest charges above 12%. Upon the jury verdict of guilty, Bagnariol said, ``I feel I am the victim of the government in this case. This is how the Nazi government got started.'' Ten years later, having served their sentences and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, two of the three charges against them were tossed out by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Control of Congress

Senate SPIS staffer Goodwin had confidently predicted that after SPIS and the FBI had scared some people and broken the power of labor, then ``Congress will come in and mop things up.'' Did he know that the blackmail and entrapment schemes of the DOJ-FBI plumbers unit was to be next turned on the Congress to ensure their submission?

The Abscam victims in the Congress were predominantly labor Democrats. The DOJ-FBI were not ferreting out crime in Congress; rather, they were creating crimes to ensnare a particular group of members of Congress. One Republican was caught in the Abscam web, Rep. Richard Kelly of Florida. He made a public fight against the Gestapo tactics used by the ``shady characters'' behind Abscam. Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, took Kelly's seat in the wake of Abscam, which speaks loudly to his protection of the DOJ permanent bureaucracy in the recent Waco hearings.

Among the Democrats targeted were:

  • Sen. Harrison Williams, who had served 23 years in the U.S. Senate when the Abscammers went after him. He was the former chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee and then-chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Securities, which oversaw the regulation of securities, stocks, and bonds. Not only had he fought for labor and civil rights throughout his career, but at the time he became a mark, he was the major obstacle to banking deregulation being pushed by, respectively, Senate and House Banking Committee chairmen William Proxmire (D-Wisc.) and Henry Reuss (D-Wisc.), with the support of Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker. Williams was also opposed to the wave of foreign takeovers of U.S. banking and industry, characterized by a December 1979 London Economist cover story entitled ``Buy America Cheap.'' The DOJ plumbers unit had to get him out of the way. Despite the FBI's videotape showing him refusing the phony Arab sheikh's bribe three times, he was convicted by a cowardly jury.

  • Sen. Howard Cannon (D-Nev.), who was chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee when he became a quarry in Operation Pendorf. He had been an opponent of trucking deregulation, until his name surfaced in this FBI scam.

  • Rep. Frank Thompson (D-N.J.), who was chairman of the House Administration Committee, the second-ranking member of the Education and Labor Committee, and chairman of the Labor-Management Relations Subcommittee when he was set up in Abscam. He was facing an uphill reelection bid, and backed down on his opposition to trucking deregulation in the face of the indictment.

  • Rep. Michael O. (Ozzie) Myers (D-Pa.), who was a longshoreman by trade. He had become a member of two House committees: Education and Labor and Merchant Marine and Fisheries.

  • Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), who held a seat on the Appropriations Committee, the Defense Subcommittee, and the Committee on Official Conduct when he was targeted. He made headlines when he won his congressional seat in 1974 because he had captured the district in western-central Pennsylvania which had been held by the Republicans for 38 years. The owner of a local car wash, he was known for his ability to get things done for his economically depressed district. [Murtha is an orginal co-sponsor with Rep. Joseph McDade (R-Pa.), of HR 3396, the ``Citizens' Protection Act.'']

  • Rep. John Murphy (D-N.Y.), who was a member of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee and chairman of the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee. After being named in the Abscam scheme, Murphy announced he would no longer oppose deregulation of the maritime industry.

With labor broken and demoralized and Congress terrorized, the DOJ-FBI hit-men began a new phase of targeting.

America's Black Leaders are Targeted

Showing that the backbone had been removed from Congress, when then-Rep. Mervyn Dymally (D-Calif.) placed the evidence of the scandalous FBI policy of ``investigating'' African-American leaders into the Congressional Record, Congress did nothing. The evidence? A sworn affidavit by FBI agent Hirsch Friedman describing the FBI's Operation Frühmenschen. He stated, ``The purpose of this policy was the routine investigation without probable cause of prominent ... black officials.'' The reason for the policy, he was told, was ``the assumption by the FBI that black officials were intellectually and socially incapable of governing.'' The FBI had truly internalized Gestapo tactics.

The most disgraceful such frame-up was that directed against federal Judge Alcee Hastings. He became Florida's first black federal judge after a 20-year career as a prominent civil rights attorney. The sting set-up used by the FBI in this case was classic. The undercover agent posed as a man who had been convicted in Hastings's courtroom and who was willing to pay a bribe if the sentence could be altered. Part of the sentence required the man to forfeit an $845,000 asset. A friend of Judge Hastings was approached by the undercover agent to see if he could arrange for Hastings to rescind the sentence dealing with the forfeiture. In the meantime, the fifth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a ruling modifying the forfeiture provision Judge Hastings had used in his sentencing, thus requiring him to rescind the forfeiture ruling. The friend took the bribe money and said he would work things out with Hastings. The Hastings ruling rescinding the forfeiture (required by law) occurred after the bribe was taken. Bingo! The FBI had its case. It didn't matter that the FBI had no direct evidence that Judge Hastings knew anything about the bribe--the indictment was handed down.

The three-week trial witnessed FBI agents and government attorneys weaving a web of relationships between the bribery scheme, the judge, and his friend. But the jury didn't buy it and voted ``not guilty.'' After the acquittal, Hastings spoke out. He said that 101 FBI agents had spent 11 months and used illegal wiretaps trying to frame him, but it didn't work. He warned, ``A whole lot of you judges and lawyers may be indicted. If we don't have some balance in this [government] system, we're all going to lose.'' The battle was not over for Hastings. Despite his innocence, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) led an effort in Congress to impeach Hastings as a federal judge. The moral cowardice of Congress was on display when it voted to impeach Hastings. Not cowed, however, Hastings ran for Congress and is today a sitting congressman.

Dismantling the Defense Industry

On the morning of June 14, 1988, Americans woke up to news reports that the Pentagon was surrounded and occupied by hundreds of FBI agents. Operation Ill Wind was now public and the Pentagon had been raided. Why? Allegedly, the big-brass had been engaged in procurement fraud, i.e., the media-hyped ``$600 toilet seats'' and other such stories. In an introduction to an EIR Special Report on the FBI raid, LaRouche wrote, ``One thing is certain; Moscow has reason to be most pleased with the FBI raid on the `military-industrial complex.' ... It is irrelevant, whether the Defense Department and `military-industrial complex' have been much less than paragons during recent decades. One does not burn down a house to eliminate a leaky faucet|...|; one does not wreck a most vital department of government, Defense ... simply to please left-leaning critics of the military arms. The Defense Department is overdue for important reforms; it is the rogue elements in the Justice Department responsible for this scandal who must be purged promptly before they do irreparable damage to our constitutional institutions'' (see EIR, June 30, 1988 supplement, ``FBI Raids Pentagon in Pro-Moscow Coup'').

Who were these rogues LaRouche was referring to? Again, we find Mark Richard involved, but also a new boy on the scene, William Weld, who had just been confirmed as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Weld bragged to the committee in his confirmation hearings, ``White collar and public corruption [cases] are my private agenda items.'' Defense budget-cutter Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) was delighted with the nominee's position, and within days of Weld's confirmation in September 1986, the work began on Operation Ill Wind.

Under Richard's direction, the DOJ Office of Special Investigations, which specialized in so-called ``Nazi-hunting,'' had laid the groundwork for this operation a few years earlier when it took aim at America's most prominent defense scientists. The most outrageous case was that against Dr. Arthur Rudolph. While he declared his innocence, he agreed to be deported. Once in Germany, an investigation ensued into the war-crimes charges. He was found by German authorities to be innocent of all charges. But the effect of this scheme was that the German-American scientists, who had been the backbone of America's space and defense programs, were terrified and demoralized.

The next linchpin to laying the groundwork for Operation Ill Wind was the DOJ's 1985 frame-up of then-NASA head James Beggs, along with three other former or current officials of General Dynamics Corp. The charge: conspiracy to violate the Armed Services Procurement Regulations. The indictment came after one FBI agent had spent a year investigating and concluded that there was no case. But that agent was removed, and the grand jury probe was reinstated with a new agent on the job who made threats of prosecution against company employees in an effort to contrive some inculpating evidence. In 1987, the case fell apart and all charges were dropped, but the damage had been done. The defense contractor community was terrorized, and Beggs was forced to resign as NASA administrator.

In this climate, lesser-fry among defense contractors began their own ``whistle-blowing'' campaign to have contract employees turn in colleagues at the hint of suspicion of wrongdoing. Under the direction of Richard's close colleague Ted Greenberg, then heading the Defense Procurement Fraud unit at the DOJ, hundreds of FBI agents using countless wiretaps tried to make a case against the Pentagon brass and defense contractor companies. Failing to get what they needed, the spectacular June 1988 raid had one part of the Executive branch (DOJ) seizing the files and records of another (Defense Department). The outcome was not important. The message had been sent: doing business with the Defense Department was asking to be crucified, financially and politically.

The real objective of the various abusive government scams was the American citizen's trust in his government and the nation's commitment to advanced technologies for a growing economy. The news-media-promoted watchwords were: ``all politicians are crooks,'' and ``teamsters and longshoremen are part of the mafia.'' The reader--especially, if you are American--has heard (or repeated) these phrases a hundred times. Yet, the thoughtless citizen complains, ``Government is too big; it doesn't work,'' ``Why are we wasting tax dollars on space exploration?'' or ``Crime is taking over the streets, why can't the FBI stop these criminals?'' As LaRouche warned in 1981, having tolerated the systematic assault on our institutions of Congress, labor unions, the Kennedy space program, and so forth, Americans are paying the price of their own inaction.

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The preceding article is a rough version of the article that appeared in The American Almanac. It is made available here with the permission of The New Federalist Newspaper. Any use of, or quotations from, this article must attribute them to The New Federalist, and The American Almanac

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