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Doolittle Ex-Aide Indicted

Correction Appended

The indictment of one of Jack Abramoff’s lobbying associates on Monday offered a new picture of the direct contacts between Abramoff’s lobbying team and Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), including a hint that Doolittle spoke to former Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) about a project on Abramoff’s behalf.

The indictment also details again a series of favors that Abramoff’s team allegedly provided to former Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), whose chief of staff has already pleaded guilty in the probe.

Doolittle’s attorney, David Barger, said in a statement: “Not once in this document does the Department of Justice allege any sort of illegal agreement between Congressman Doolittle, on the one hand, and Kevin Ring or Jack Abramoff, on the other. To the extent the Indictment can be read to imply such an agreement, the Congressman continues to steadfastly maintain there was none and that he is innocent.”

Istook could not be reached for comment.

The Justice Department on Monday unsealed a 10-count indictment against Kevin Ring — a former senior staffer to Doolittle and later a member of Abramoff’s lobbying team — alleging that Ring provided gifts to “several public officials” to reward them for taking actions beneficial to Ring’s clients.

The Justice Department alleges that Ring and others identified public officials who could be helpful to their clients, and then “groomed those public officials by providing things of value with the intent of making those public officials more receptive to requests on behalf of their clients in the future.”

The indictment spells out rafts of gifts, including tickets to sporting events and free meals, that Ring provided to Congressional staff, Members of Congress and Justice Department officials in exchange for their assistance on matters benefitting clients of Abramoff’s lobbying team.

Ring, 37, was arrested Monday. His attorney, Richard Hibey, said that he was indicted because he “simply could not plead guilty to crimes he did not commit” and promised to “fully contest these charges.”

The indictment alleges that “Representative 5” — who could only be Doolittle given the other details of the indictment — engaged in lengthy and detailed negotiations with Ring and Abramoff over the lobbyists’ promise to find a job for Doolittle’s wife. Abramoff ultimately hired Julia Doolittle in 2002, paying her a total of about $96,000 to do little work for him.

Hibey issued a statement Monday afternoon arguing that Ring had made every effort to cooperate with the Justice Department investigation of Abramoff. Ring voluntarily sat for about 100 hours of interviews with federal agents, Hibey said, but “in 2007, when a new cadre of DOJ lawyers took over the case, the government insisted that Mr. Ring plead guilty to various fraud and corruption-related offenses and to implicate others as the price of leniency.” When Ring refused, he was tabbed “uncooperative,” Hibey said.

The indictment suggests that Doolittle was taking a series of actions at the behest of Abramoff and Ring, including helping “team Abramoff” secure a $16.3 million Justice Department grant for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians to build a jail.

At the same time, Ring sent e-mails to Abramoff indicating Doolittle’s interest in finding a job for his wife. According to the indictment, in March 2002, while the tribal money was pending, “defendant Ring emailed Abramoff, writing that he had met with [Doolittle] who had asked about the work that Abramoff was to get for [Doolittle’s] wife.”

The indictment quotes e-mails from Abramoff to the consultant working with his nonprofit, the Capital Athletic Foundation, asking that the organization find work for Doolittle’s wife but emphasizing that, “I am not sure what role she should play and it does not have to be significant. … I don’t want her to have to do too much, though, since she has responsibilities at home as a mother and wife.”

The indictment also alleges that Ring sent an e-mail to a Congressional staffer in April 2000 stating that Doolittle “had agreed to talk to the Chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure” about appropriations projects for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a large Abramoff client. Shuster was the chairman of the committee at the time.

Barger, Doolittle’s lawyer, wrote that, “It is clear that portions of the Kevin Ring Indictment were designed to make gratuitous references to the Congressman and his wife. This appears to have been done to titillate the public, with the foreseeable and therefore intended consequence of attempting to embarrass and pressure the Congressman.”

The indictment also recounts “team Abramoff’s” gifts to Istook and former Chief of Staff John Albaugh. Albaugh pleaded guilty in June to one count of conspiracy for performing “official acts” in exchange for a stream of gifts.

According to the Ring indictment, Istook attended concerts with Ring and failed to reimburse Abramoff for fundraisers the lobbyists held for his campaign.

Istook has said that he is cooperating with the FBI and has been told that he is not a target of the investigation.

Correction: Sept. 9, 2008

The article incorrectly stated that Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) was chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee at the time that Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) is alleged to have spoken to the committee chairman on behalf of Jack Abramoff in April 2000. Rep. Young did not take over the Transportation Committee until 2001; the chairman in April 2000 was Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Pa.).