- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2008

Two former top Justice Department officials emerged Wednesday as figures in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal as prosecutors disclosed plans to turn over some of the officials’ correspondence to defense lawyers preparing for trial in the case.

The officials are former Solicitor General Paul Clement and David Ayres, one-time chief of staff to former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Mr. Clement and Mr. Ayres were among Justice Department officials in e-mail correspondence with Kevin Ring, a former team Abramoff lobbyist and Capitol Hill aide who’s facing trial on 10 counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, bribery and fraud.

Mr. Ring is accused of trying to get lawmakers and government officials to help him and his clients by giving them gifts such as sports tickets and meals.

Mr. Clement and Mr. Ayres were referenced by title but not by name at a federal court hearing in Mr. Ring’s case Wednesday.

There’s no public indication that either Mr. Clement or Mr. Ayres is implicated in wrongdoing.

Mr. Ayres’ attorney did not immediately return a call for comment, and a message left at Mr. Clement’s office at Georgetown Law School, where he is a visiting professor, was not immediately returned.

At Wednesday’s hearing, prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle of plans to turn over “several million pages” of documents to Mr. Ring’s attorneys, including correspondence with Mr. Clement, Mr. Ayres and other former Justice Department officials.

The charges against Mr. Ring include an episode in which he is said to have lobbied Justice Department officials for money to build a jail on a reservation for a tribal client.

One of the officials involved - Robert Coughlin, former deputy chief of staff of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division - already has pleaded guilty to criminal conflict of interest in the case.

Mr. Ring knew Mr. Clement, Mr. Ayres, Coughlin and others because they all worked for Mr. Ashcroft when Mr. Ashcroft was a Republican senator from Missouri, before he became attorney general in 2001.

William Welch, head of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, was in court Wednesday but declined afterward to comment on the status of the former Justice officials in the case.

Mr. Ring, who has pleaded not guilty, had previously worked for Rep. John Doolittle, California Republican, who remains under investigation.

The wide-ranging Abramoff investigation has netted 13 guilty pleas from former lobbyists and government officials and one former congressman, ex-Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican.

There was discussion Wednesday about how Mr. Ring’s attorneys will get access to information they need to prepare for trial without disclosing documents related to national security, which prosecutors said may exist in electronic vaults where e-mails by Mr. Clement and Mr. Ayres are stored.

The defense lawyers and prosecutors discussed pursuing a “protective order” to keep the information confidential.

Also on Wednesday, Judge Huvelle denied a motion by Mr. Ring’s attorney, Richard Hibey, to transfer or reassign the case.

Mr. Hibey said he sought the move because part of his defense would attack the reasoning behind the plea deals that Judge Huvelle has agreed to, but Judge Huvelle said she didn’t see a problem.

No trial date was set. Judge Huvelle said it would take a long time to go through all the possible evidence first. Prosecutors predicted a four-to-six week trial.

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