Ultimately, six lawmakers went down on corruption charges stemming from the operation, nearly all of them Democrats. Murtha wasn't one of them -- but not, as Murtha implies, because his innocence was ever demonstrated. "I'm gonna be blunt," an FBI man says to Murtha after laying out what favors he was looking to buy. "Are you telling me now. . . you don't want any money on this thing?"How did Murtha get away with this?
"There's some places I'd like you to invest some money, in the banks, in my district," Murtha responds. "I'd say some substantial deposits." He explains later how he does so many favors for people that, if they weren't all for individuals in his district, "people would say, that son of a bitch. . . is on the take.""Once they say that, what happens?" Murtha asks the FBI men rhetorically, ignorant of the fact that he was explaining his own M.O. to agents trying to bust him for corruption. "Then they start going around looking for the goddamn money. So I want to avoid that by having some tie to the district. That's all. That's the secret to the whole thing."
When O'Neill learned that the special prosecutor, Barrett Prettyman Jr., had set his sights on Murtha, "the Speaker immediately summoned [then-Texas Dem. congressman] Charlie Wilson into his office with an offer he couldn't refuse" -- a seat on the House ethics committee.I know ABSCAM was 26 years ago, but Murtha wasn't a young man at the time. And he doesn't seem to have learned his lesson, given that he now thinks that an ethics reform bill being pushed by fellow Democrats is "total crap." I know Hoyer is not the most inspired choice, but given anti-corruption wave that helped to sweep Republicans from power, how does it make sense to make as Majority Leader a man who himself has dabbled in corruption and opposes ethics reform?
Wilson, a man of proudly compromised morals, protested that they would both get "laughed off the [House] floor" if he accepted. But O'Neill wanted Wilson on the panel to stop the probe from reaching Murtha, Crile reports. And he got it -- by promising Wilson a lifetime appointment to the board of the Kennedy Center, which gave Wilson -- a well-known womanizer -- dozens of free tickets to performing arts events.