- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2008

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A former high-ranking Justice Department official was accused yesterday of criminal conflict of interest in the latest case stemming from the investigation of disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Robert Coughlin was deputy chief of staff of the Justice Department’s criminal division, which handled the Abramoff probe, before resigning a year ago, citing personal reasons. He was due in federal court in the District today for a plea hearing.

Prosecutors accused Mr. Coughlin in court papers of providing assistance from 2001 to 2003 to a lobbyist and the lobbyist’s firm while receiving gifts from the firm and discussing prospective employment there.

The lobbyist isn’t named, but the Associated Press previously reported that Mr. Coughlin was lobbied during the period in question by Kevin Ring, a member of Abramoff’s lobbying team who also is under investigation. At the time, Mr. Coughlin worked for the Justice Department’s office of legislative affairs and its office of intergovernmental and public liaison, and Mr. Ring worked for Abramoff’s Greenberg Traurig firm.

Mr. Coughlin talked with Mr. Ring about going to work for Greenberg, according to an attorney with knowledge of the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. Mr. Ring also provided Mr. Coughlin with meals and tickets to events.

Attorneys for Mr. Coughlin declined comment, and Mr. Ring’s attorney didn’t immediately return a call for comment.

The investigation of Mr. Coughlin’s conduct was handled by federal prosecutors in Maryland because of his ties at Justice Department headquarters. The document filed in court yesterday is known as an information and is normally filed as part of a plea deal.

Mr. Ring and Mr. Coughlin worked together for John Ashcroft when he was a Republican senator from Missouri, before he became attorney general in 2001. Mr. Ring lobbied Mr. Coughlin and other Justice Department officials on a variety of issues, including getting federal money for a jail for the Choctaw tribe.

The Justice Department probe of Abramoff and his team of lobbyists has led to convictions of a dozen people, including former Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican, and former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles. At least one current member of Congress, Rep. John T. Doolittle, California Republican, remains under investigation.

Mr. Ring worked for Mr. Doolittle, who is retiring from Congress at the end of this year, before going to work for Abramoff.

Abramoff is serving prison time for a criminal case out of Florida and has not yet been sentenced on charges of mail fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion stemming from the influence-peddling scandal.

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