It was, testified US Rep. Michael O. Myers (D) of Pennsylvania, only "a way to pick up some easy money for doing absolutely nothing." But Congressman Myer's testimony, offered Aug. 25 at his trial here for bribery in connection with the Abscam FBI undercover operation, contradicts his promises -- recorded on videotape -- that in exchange for payment of $100,000 he would:
* Introduce a private immigration bill in Congress for what turned out to be a mythical Arab sheikh.
* Use his influence to get favorable treatment from organized crime in Philadelphia when it came to a port development project the bogus sheikh was interested in.
* Persuade members of the Philadelphia City Council to alter zoning regulations and otherwise use their power to help the sheikh.
In low, solemn tones the youthful Philadelphia congressman, who quit school after the ninth grade and at age 18 worked as a longshoreman on the Philadelphia docks, told the court he was merely "following a script" laid down by FBI informants and that the money he received was only a "fairy tale" come true. He repeatedly told the court he had no notion whatsoever of carrying out his videotaped pledges.
Besides the argument that he was merely "faking," Myers's attorneys are using as a defense the claim that he was at least slightly intoxicated in one videotaped sequence. Myers was seen on the tapes taking what appeared to be an alcoholic beverage, but he testified that he rarely consumed hard liquor.
Of the four defendants currently on trial in the current Abscam case, Myers was the first to testify in his own defense. The scene in the crowded Brooklyn courtroom was as dramatic as it was bizarre.
Portions of videotapes show the defendant taking an envelope with $15,000 inside and promising to use his political influence in return were played to the jury. Using the tapes in his presentation, the defense council stopped them at certain points and the congressman offered explanatory comments -- sometimes just a phrase, other times at much greater length.
On the witness stand, Myers proceeded to label as untrue his every promise and boast to FBI undercover agents on the tapes. He continually told the jury that he was only trying to impress the FBI agents. At one point, in regard to a taped promise of political influence, the witness said vehemently: "I never did anything before [this case], never intended to, and [in reference to his claim that he was merely acting out a script] was told I would never have to."
One videotaped sequence:
FBI undercover agent: "Can you get into the introduction of a bill? Private [legislation]?"
Myers: "Yeah, I could do that. But if I had a reason to do it, I can do it."
Myers explained on the stand that he has introduced only one such private immigration bill in his four years in Congress.