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Final Abscam chapter: Williams battles expulsion

Harrison A. Williams Jr., convicted of bribery and sentenced to three years in prison, faces the final round in his fight to keep his seat in the US Senate.

After months of delays, the expulsion hearing begins this week for the New Jersey Democrat, the only senator snared in the Abscam probes that ended two years ago.

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Seven members of Congress have been tried and convicted for taking bribes in the undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation probe. All except Senator Williams have now left Congress. Most resigned or lost reelection bids, and Rep. Michael O. Myers (D) of Pennsylvania, was expelled.

Williams is fighting an uphill battle to save his job. Not only has a court found him guilty, but the Senate Ethics Committee has unanimously recommended expulsion. Two-thirds of the Senate must vote to unseat him.

Far from giving up, the four-term senator is launching a vigorous defense. He maintains that FBI undercover agents entrapped him and plotted to intoxicate him so that he ''would act as they wanted when in front of a hidden camera.''

Williams has circulated to senators a 45-page document laying out his defense , sent to reporters a thick packet of sympathetic newspaper columns and commentaries, and scheduled press conferences before and after each day's session in the expulsion debates, which begin March 3.

Although the Williams case follows the pattern of other Abscam cases, it has been widely seen as the weakest one. As in the other cases, the story line involves FBI agents who pose as representatives of rich Arabs and offer bribes to officials. A hidden TV camera looks on.

Other congressmen accepted thousands of dollars in cash, carrying it with them in an attache case, a paper sack, or, in one case, stuffed into pockets. But Senator Williams refused to take the bribe. Instead, he is charged for trying to obtain a loan from the ''Arabs'' for a mining operation in which he and friends had a financial interest. Williams promised to help win government contracts for the mining company.

''I will always steadfastly believe and maintain that I never used my office corruptly,'' he told the Ethics Committee. ''I never sought or received personal gain, and I never intended to do anything illegal.''

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One hope for Williams's keeping his seat rests in a lesser penalty, such as a censure. Sen. Alan Cranston (D) of California is considering proposing censure because of the danger of the FBI and Department of Justice turning Abscam-like probes into political ''dirty tricks,'' says a spokesman.


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