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ABSCAM Trials: 1980 & 1981

Influential Senator Charged

At the time of his arraignment, Harrison A. Williams, Jr., 61, had been a senator for New Jersey for 22 years and was one of the most powerful men in Washington. He and an associate, 72-year-old lawyer Alexander Feinberg, were jointly accused of scheming to illegally benefit a Virginia titanium mine and processing plant. Williams had allegedly agreed to use his position to obtain government contracts to buy the output of the mine and plant, in which he was to have a secret 18 percent interest.

Assistant prosecutor Edward A. McDonald opened on March 31, 1981, by showing the jury a photograph of Williams aboard a yacht in Delray Beach, Florida, posing with Sheik Yassir Habib, actually Richard Farhart, an FBI agent. "Habib"—supposedly ready to lend $100 million to the titanium project—was also present at an Arlington, Virginia meeting with Williams, which was videotaped. When the conversation turned to matters of influence, Williams assured Habib that he could "go right to the top," and mentioned then Vice President Walter Mondale. Speaking of Mondale, he said, "We have a relationship that will make all of that possible … that's all I want to tell you now."

Another ABSCAM victim, Henry Williams (no relation to the senator but a longtime associate) decided to cut his losses and turn state's evidence. He described the senator's tendency and willingness to exploit his position for money. Contrary to what the defense had claimed, Williams said that the senator had been connected with the titanium company since 1976.

To counter this allegation, the defense produced ex-Secretary of the Treasury Henry H. Fowler, now an investment banker. Chief defense counsel George J. Koelzer asked, "Did you feel that Senator Williams was putting any pressure on you to help this enterprise?"


"Did he indicate … that his business could get government contracts?"

Again the answer was no.

Which was the line taken by Williams himself, when he gave evidence on his own behalf.

"Were you guaranteeing government contracts?" Koelzer asked.

"Absolutely not, not at all."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980ABSCAM Trials: 1980 1981 - Four-way Conspiracy, Untrustworthy Witness, Influential Senator Charged, Warning From Bench, No Acquittals