Top Ashcroft Aide May Plead Fifth In Trial Of Abramoff Crony

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Did the Abramoff scandal extend into the highest reaches of the Justice Department?

John Ashcroft’s chief of staff at DOJ may plead the fifth in the trial of Kevin Ring, the Team Abramoff operative accused of bribing lawmakers and public officials, according to court documents.

A motion filed this week by Ring’s lawyers and examined by TPMmuckraker states:

Counsel for Mr. Ayres and counsel for Ms. Ayres [Ayres’s wife] have indicated that each would invoke their Fifth Amendment privilege if subpoeaned.

Why would they do that? According to another part of the motion:

The government intends to suggest that Mr. Ayres, after being involved in an official decision benefiting one of Mr. Ring’s clients, received a ticket to one sporting event and a set of tickets to a later event.

The Ring indictment, filed last year, had laid this out in a bit more detail. In short, prosecutors claimed that Ayres accepted gifts from Team Abramoff just as the Justice Department, in a reversal of its prior position, approved a federal grant sought by an Abramoff client, the Choctaw Indians.

From the indictment:

179. On or about January 26, 2002, while out with Coughlin before a Washington Wizards game, defendant RING sent an email to Abramoff and another lobbyist stating that Coughlin just told him that a senior DOJ official “will get the joke. We’ll see Monday,” referring to a scheduled telephone conference between defendant RING and the official, regarding the [Mississippi Choctaw] jail grant. The other lobbyist responded, “I love it when they get the joke.”

180. On or about January 28, 2002, defendant RING had a teleconference with the senior DOJ official.

181. On or about January 30 or 31, 2002, the DOJ reversed its prior decision and decided to award a $16.3 million federal grant to defendant RING’s tribal client for construction of the jail. Thereafter, defendant RING continued to lobby the DOJ seeking a waiver of the DOJ’s requirement that the contract to construct the jail be competitively bid….

186. On or about March 14, 2002, defendant RING asked for approval to give NCAA men’s basketball tournament tickets to the senior DOJ official whom defendant RING had lobbied regarding the tribal jail. Abramoff approved the request.

Ayres isn’t some random bureaucrat. After leaving Justice, he teamed up with the former AG himself and ex-Cheney aide Juleanna Glover to found The Ashcroft Group, a Washington-based law and “strategic consulting” firm of which he’s currently C.E.O. Ayres did not immediately respond to TPMmuckraker’s request for comment.

Hat-tips to the Anti-Corruption Republican blog, and to reader B.K.

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