Former Aides Can’t Plead Fifth Amendment at Lobbyist Retrial

Posted September 28, 2010 at 4:56pm

A lineup of former Congressional aides who avoided testifying in the 2009 trial of a House-aide-turned-lobbyist will not be able to evade the upcoming retrial, a federal judge determined Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle said Tuesday that at least three witnesses, and likely a fourth, will not be able to again invoke their Fifth Amendment rights, noting that the statute of limitations on crimes related to the case have expired.

“I don’t think anybody here has a right to invoke the Fifth Amendment,” Huvelle said, referring to attorneys representing David Ayres, who served as the chief of staff to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft; his wife, Laura Ayres; and Peter Evich, who was a legislative director for former Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.).

Neither David Lopez, Doolittle’s former chief of staff, nor his attorney attended the hearing, but Huvelle suggested her decision would likely apply to Lopez as well.

Huvelle said another potential witness, Ann Copland, determined before the hearing that she cannot invoke her Fifth Amendment rights. Copland is a former aide to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).

The new trial of Kevin Ring is scheduled to begin in October. He faces charges stemming from the influence-peddling investigation of his former boss, disgraced ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, with whom he worked at Greenberg Traurig and the former Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds. Copland has pleaded guilty to charges connected to the Abramoff investigation.

Ring was a former aide to Doolittle and then-Sen. Ashcroft (R-Mo.). He is accused of providing tickets to sporting events and other gifts to Congressional staff in exchange for assistance for Abramoff’s clients.

Huvelle declared a mistral when jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict following the 2009 trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

During the hearing Tuesday, federal prosecutors also indicated that John Albaugh, chief of staff to then-Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), will not testify at the new trial, although he appeared as a key government witness in 2009. Albaugh also has pleaded guilty to charges related to the Abramoff case.

Federal prosecutors said Albaugh stated in a recent interview that he does not believe he was influenced by event tickets or other gifts provided by Ring, although he stated he was influenced by campaign contributions.

Prosecutors could still opt to introduce e-mails from Albaugh, but Huvelle indicated Ring’s attorneys would be allowed to introduce Albaugh’s contrary statements.