Two conflicting views of US Sen. Harrison A. Williams (D) of New Jersey, currently on trial for his part in Abscam, are emerging. His defense says he was manipulated by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) operatives, posing as representatives of a bogus Arab sheikh, into saying and doing incriminating things. "With great pleasure I will talk to the President of the United States, in a personal way and get him enthusiastic and excited because we know what our country needs [titanium]," the senator says at one point on one videotape.
But according to a June 28, 1979, tape recording played this week in Brooklyn Federal District Court, Senator Williams was like "a little kid with a lollipop" following his meeting with the bogus sheikh.
This tape recording of a phone conservation between Williams's longtime associate, Alex Feinberg, and FBI operative Melvin Weinberg has been the strongest evidence to date against the US lawmaker.
In this tape, Mr. Feinberg, who is describing to Mr. Weinberg how the senator felt about his meeting with the Arab sheikh, also makes this key statement: "You know, the senator seemed to get a big kick out of his own performance, because when he related to me what he said, he kept saying . . . 'and it's all true.'"
Williams, the highest ranking government official to be indicted for bribery and conspiracy in connection with the FBI's Abscam investigation, is accused of promising to help get government contracts for a Virginia titanium mine in return for an 18 percent hidden interest in the mine.
The defense claim that Williams was manipulated by FBI operative Weinberg into exaggerating his promises to help the Arab sheikh gain government contracts for the mine. And, indeed, Williams is seen in an August 1979 videotape boasting of his connections he could employ toward that end.
Williams's apparent buoyancy on videotape stands in sharp constrast to his generally somber demeanor here at the trial, his huge bushy eyebrows arching over intense eyes that often stare motionless at the proceeding.
Weinberg appears to have helped bring out part of his buoyancy in the August 1979 videotape by urging Williams just a little while before this meeting to "play and blow your horn . . . and mention names you know."
But a question implicit in the prosection's case is: Could any man, perhaps especially a United States senator, be prodded into saying something he didn't really want to say or even believe?
Weinberg, a convicted felon turned FBI informant, testified on April 6 that Williams told him in no uncertain terms he would get the government contracts for the titanium mine.
Williams is expected to testify toward the end of the week or early next. If convicted of bribery, the most serious charge in the 19 indictment, the New Jersey De mocrat could face up to 15 years in prison.