As John Murtha appeared as a guest on Wednesday's Hardball, MSNBC host Chris Matthews questioned the Democratic Congressman about the infamous FBI tape from the ABSCAM scandal in which undercover FBI agents talked with Murtha about the possibility of bribery, with Murtha having suggested to them the possibility that he would be "interested" at a later date. After pressing Murtha on what his words meant with Murtha contending that he was just trying to acquire investment for his Congressional district, Matthews ended up asking him if it was "just a way of finessing your way out of the conversation," to which Murtha agreed before Matthews dropped the line of questioning. (Transcript follows)
Below is a complete transript of the relevant portion of the November 15 interview from MSNBC's Hardball:
Chris Matthews: "Let's talk about what's being said against you, not just by your opponents, but in the newspapers. Let's talk about ABSCAM. Back 26 years ago, I went through the numbers. Five members of the United States Congress, a United States Senator, Pete Williams from New Jersey, were convicted of accepting money from these undercover FBI agents posing as Arab guys trying to make an offer to Congressmen to cut a deal that would put some money in the pockets of these people. All these people were convicted; you weren't. Does that mean you're innocent?"
Rep. John Murtha (D-PA): "Well, I'll put it this way: I had 24 percent unemployment, I was looking investment. I told them I wanted investment in my district. They put $50,000 out on the table. I said I'm not interested in that, I'm interested in investment. The Ethics Committee cleared me completely on a unanimous vote."
Matthews: "When they said, when they offered you the envelope of $50,000, did you think that was a bribe?"
Murtha: "It wasn't an envelope. It was a drawer full of cash."
Matthews: "Well, was that a bribe?"
Murtha: "No. As far as I was concerned-"
Matthews: "No, what did you see that as? Why did you say, 'I'm not interested'?"
Murtha: "Well, I said I'm not interested because I just didn't feel like it was the right thing to do."
Matthews: "Why not?"
Murtha: "Well, I just didn't, you know, what the hell, I'm not going to take cash from some Arab sheiks. They weren't Arab sheiks; they were FBI agents, but- [laughing]"
Matthews: "Right, but you didn't know that."
Murtha: "I just said, 'This is not what I'm interested in. I'm interested in you folks investing in my district."
Matthews: "I heard you, I've seen this tape of you on YouTube now, everybody's seen it, a million people apparently have seen this tape. You said, 'I'm not interested,' and I assume that you thought it was something you shouldn't have done, as you just said, it wasn't the right thing to do, right?"
Murtha: "Well, certainly. That's exactly-"
Matthews: "Okay. Well, then why did you say, 'At this point' then?"
Murtha: "Well, listen, I wanted to negotiate with them about investment in the district. That's what I was interested in."
Murtha: "That's the only thing I was interested in."
Matthews: "But what did you mean? You said, 'I'm not interested at this point,' and then said, 'I may be interested at some point.'"
Murtha: "No, no, listen, I, the Ethics-"
Matthews: "Well, that's on the tape."
Murtha: "I know, but what I said was I want to continue to talk to you guys, I want investment in the district. That's all I was interested in, and that-"
Matthews: "But did you smell corruption in that conversation?"
Murtha: "Sure. I saw these guys were trying to corrupt me and trying to get me-"
Matthews: "Did you think they were legitimate emissaries for an Arab big shot or did you think they were-"
Murtha: "They were the slimiest guys I've ever seen."
Matthews: "Well, why didn't you walk out of the room the minute you met them?"
Murtha: "Well, listen, they said they were going to invest in the district, we had 24 percent unemployment-"
Matthews: "Okay, I understand the constituent service part of this, I understand that, but the tricky part of this is to say 'I'm not interested,' which meant you didn't want to have anything to do with these slime balls as you saw them, but then you said 'At this point.' Was that just a way of finessing your way out of the conversation?"
Murtha: "Exactly. I deal with people like this all the time. I wanted to find a way to move towards a negotiation in investment."
Matthews: "Did you know they had already paid two other members off?"
Murtha: "I had no idea."
Matthews: "Even when they were talking about giving 50 to one guy and 50 to the other guy?"
Murtha: "I ignored that completely. I paid no attention to that at all."
Matthews: "It didn't mean anything to you?"
Murtha: "It didn't mean anything."
Matthews: "It didn't mean Thompson and Murphy were involved?"
Murtha: "No, it meant nothing to me."
Matthews: "Okay, you weren't charged?"
Matthews: "Right? You weren't reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee. So what is your, what do you think your record should be all these years later, 26 years later, what do you think that should say to people about your attitude as a member of Congress today? What have you learned from that? What should they think about it? And thirdly, is this a legitimate issue in this campaign, as you see it?"
Murtha: "Well, I've been elected 10 times since that happened. It's come up in almost every contested election, it's come up. And I think the public-"
Matthews: "You mean back home?"
Murtha: "Back at home. They understand what I was trying to do. They're the ones that didn't have the jobs. They're the ones that wanted investment in the district. They're the ones that understand better than anybody else, and I think the people up here understand also, that this was something set up by the FBI in order to entice people-"
Matthews: "I know."
Murtha: "-and send them to jail."
Matthews: "Well, it worked in a lot of cases. They put five guys, six guys away, including Pete Williams."
Murtha: "They did put six guys away, and I said I want investment, that's what I want."