Abscam videotapes will roll again this week -- at least in court, if not on the nightly news. US Reps. John M. Murphy (D) of New York and Frank R. Thompson Jr. (D) of New Jersey go on trial here in federal district court this week on charges of bribery and conspiracy in the third Abscam trial.
Two congressmen already have been convicted on similar charges, three others and US Sen. Harrison A. Williams (D) of New Jersey await trial. But the American people are still no closer to knowing whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) overstepped its ethical responsibilities in the way it conducted the Abscam probe.
Lawyers for Congressmen Murphy and Thompson, who both say they lost their reelection bids because of Abscam, may well assail not only the credibility of one of the FBI's key witnesses but the legal and ethical justification for the entire Abscam probe in which FBI agents posed as representatives of a wealthy Arab sheikh seeking political favors.
Already, the operation has been criticized by high- ranking Justice Department officials. As a result, sources say that though the agency intends to continue to investigate corruption within the halls of Congress, investigations will definitely "take some other form."
That new form remains under wraps. But a Justice Department source says that one can rule out FBI undercover agents posing as representatives of a bogus Mideast sheikh.
During a previous trial a videotape showed, among many other things, former US Rep. Michael Myers (D) of Pennsylvania receiving an envelope containing $50, 000 in return for promises of political influence. Myers was subsequently expelled from Congress by his colleagues and lost his bid for reelection.
Some of the jurors laughed when a key government witness, who had posed as a representative of the mythical Arab, asked Myers to help himself to a more comfortable seat, one which the jurors could plainly see was in full view of the FBI's hidden cameras.
Myers and represebntatives of the American Civil Liberties Union claim "entrapment" was used illegally -- that agents enticed the defendants into committing crimes they would not have committed under normanl circumstances.