Prosecutors in Maryland handling part of Abramoff case | SierraSun.com

Prosecutors in Maryland handling part of Abramoff case

Erica WernerAssociated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) Federal prosecutors in Maryland are handling part of the Jack Abramoff lobbying case because of a possible conflict of interest at Justice Department headquarters, an official with knowledge of the case said Friday.The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.The investigation involves Kevin Ring, a former aide to Rep. John Doolittle, R-Rocklin. Ring later went to work with Abramoff, the one-time GOP super-lobbyist who’s now in jail and cooperating in an influence-peddling probe that’s focused on Doolittle, among others.While working with Abramoff, Ring lobbied Justice Department officials including Robert Coughlin while Coughlin worked for the department’s office of legislative affairs from 2001 to 2003, according to an attorney with knowledge of the case. The attorney spoke on condition of anonymity because of the pending investigation.Ring also provided Coughlin with meals and tickets to events, the attorney said.A Justice Department inspector general’s investigation of some of those connections led to the conclusion that prosecutors needed to be brought in. But department officials determined that it would be a conflict for the prosecutors to be in the main Justice Department, so the U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland was asked to provide two assistant U.S. attorneys to work on the case, the official said.Those two prosecutors report not to the U.S. attorney in Maryland but to the deputy attorney general’s office in Washington.Ring and Coughlin were friends from working together for John Ashcroft when he was a Republican senator from Missouri before becoming attorney general in 2001.After leaving the Justice Department for a period, Coughlin joined the criminal division in 2005 and was the division’s deputy chief of staff before resigning on April 6, citing personal reasons.On April 13, Ring resigned from Barnes & Thornburg LLP, the firm where he worked after leaving Greenburg Traurig, the firm where he worked with Abramoff.Ring’s attorney didn’t immediately return a call for comment Friday, and an attorney who’s acted as a spokesman for Coughlin also didn’t return a call. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined comment.Ring lobbied Coughlin and other Justice Department officials on a variety of issues, including getting federal money for a jail for the Choctaw tribe, the attorney said.The money was held up in the Justice Department, but Ring’s lobbying helped to get it released, the attorney said.Ring worked for Doolittle from 1993 through 1997 as a legislative assistant and then legislative director. Doolittle has denied wrongdoing in his ties to Abramoff, a friend and donor who put Doolittle’s wife, Julie, on retainer for more than a year to help plan a fundraiser.