Not everyone received a pardon from Clinton

March 12, 2001|By Michael Scarcella

NOT EVERYONE who requested a Clinton pardon received word from the White House about the status of their request.

My grandfather, former U.S. Sen. Harrison A. "Pete" Williams Jr. of New Jersey, submitted a pardon application, having gone through all the appropriate legal steps.

He was promised a call and never got one, even after the Inauguration Day deadline passed. My grandfather had been denied a pardon.

He had been a popular and influential Democrat.

Having served from 1958 to 1980, when he resigned, he authored the nation's first assistance program for urban mass transportation, created the first Senate panel to investigate the plight of migrant workers and, as chair of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, fought for equal opportunity legislation.

The government charged my grandfather with bribery in 1981 in what became known as the ABSCAM trial. He was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison. He denies the charge.

The government accused my grandfather of promising to use his Senate position to get federal contracts to buy the output of a titanium mine in Virginia, to be financed in part by "Arab" investors. These investors, who were FBI agents dressed in Arab garb, met with Mr. Williams in an Arlington, Va., motel room in June 1979 to discuss the business venture in which my grandfather allegedly had a concealed 18 percent interest.

Never mind my grandfather's guilt or innocence. Never mind, too, his distinguished career in the Senate, or all he's done to serve his country and community with the passion he demonstrated in the Senate.

Post-prison life, in fact, has been devoted to a non-profit organization -- the Harrison A. Williams Jr. Job Readiness Academy in Newark, N.J. It is a facility for academic, pre-employment and drug-prevention services for troubled New Jersey youths.

That the White House decided not to notify my grandfather regarding the status of his pardon request is inexcusable.

The tireless hours of legal counsel, the expenditure of money, the emotional and physical drain -- each warrants at least a phone call. A broken promise, faith lost.

My grandfather doesn't know why the Clinton administration rejected his request. Perhaps he didn't have the right connections. After having gone through the ABSCAM ordeal, though, I suspect he had no desire to play the connections game.

Michael Scarcella, a free-lance writer, is a senior political science major at Johns Hopkins University and grew up in Baltimore.

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