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Abscam: cleaning the House

Voting only twice in 119 years to expel a member, Congress can hardly be accused of being too quick to mete out harsh punishment when one of its own is found guilty of violating congressional ethics. In the case of Philadelphia's little-known, two-term congressman, Michael Myers, the first of six US representatives implicated in the Abscam scandal to be convicted of bribe-taking , it would have been almost impossible for the House to have acted otherwise and still maintain its credibility with the public.

The evidence of misdeeds the FBI had collected on the Philadelphia lawmaker was explicit and overwhelming. The videotapes made available to Congress included, for instance, brazen boasts by the congressman that for enough money he could wield considerable influence not only with Congress but with organized crime and members of the Philadelphia City Council. In one such exchange with an undercover agent posing as a representative of a fictitious Arab sheik, the congressman pledged, "I can line up a lot of customers for ya, members of Congress that are willing to deal with us. I could put people around you. . . . If you want to spend. . . money, I'll show you how to spend it."

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Questions have been raised about whether some of the FBI's techniques in the Abscam cases constitute entrapment. But Representative Myers's obvious eagerness to "deal" for money seemed to give a hollow ring to the congressman's plea that he was "set up." Neither Congress nor the jury in Philadelphia bought that argument. Mr. Myers has appealed his conviction, and he should be given every opportunity to defend himself in the courts.

The public might have accepted the House action as having greater moral conviction behind it had it not been made under the pressure of an impending national election. Nevertheless, it is a plus that the lawmakers did not engage in the kind of footdragging that allowed Rep. Charles Diggs, convicted in 1978 of misusing the salaries of congressional employees for his personal benefit, to resign rather than face expulsion. With ABscam charges against five more congressmen still to be decided in the courts, Americans will be watching to see if, after the election, the House demonstrates the same zeal for defending its ethics as it has in the Myers case

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