WASHINGTON — Kevin Ring said he knew nothing about efforts to get a job for the wife of California Republican Rep. John Doolittle, but then investigators found his e-mails.
Ring wrote two of them to his boss, a lobbyist named Jack Abramoff. In one, he said that Doolittle's chief of staff had asked him whether a job had yet been found for her. In the second, Ring wrote that he had met personally with Doolittle, who again asked about the job for his wife, Julie.
Ring's 10-count indictment, the latest chapter in the long-running Abramoff influence-peddling scandal, makes one thing clear: His apparent desire to protect the Doolittles is now figuring very prominently in his legal troubles.
While the Doolittles remain under federal investigation, they have not been charged with any crimes and have consistently maintained their innocence.
Two of the felony charges against Ring, an aide to Doolittle before he went to work for Abramoff, directly involve his relationship with Julie Doolittle. Prosecutors allege that he obstructed justice by trying to mislead the FBI when he said he did not recall conversations about getting a job for her. And in 2004, he allegedly used interstate wires to execute a scheme when he deposited a $5,000 check into a credit union account controlled by her.
The cozy and circular relationship between the Doolittles and Abramoff is outlined in a long track of e-mails that were seized by investigators and made public in the indictment, which was announced Monday. Prosecutors allege that Ring, Doolittle's former legislative director, served as a go-between linking the convicted felon and the retiring congressman, and the e-mails now provide some of the most damning evidence of the close link between the two.
On Dec. 27, 2000, Doolittle wrote an e-mail to Abramoff, saying: "Thanks for all that you have done to help us and to help the cause this past year."
Three months earlier, Ring had told Abramoff that Doolittle "was excited and appreciative" that the lobbyist might be able to get his wife a job. The congressman wanted to talk to Abramoff.
Abramoff wrote back to Doolittle: "Please tell (your wife) I am sorry I have not been able to finish what we discussed, but I will have it in place soon." After arranging a job for Julie Doolittle that would pay her $5,000 a month, Abramoff wrote in an e-mail that he wanted her to help him "but not be overburdened with work" because she had responsibilities as a wife and mother.
Julie Doolittle ended up with an easy job raising money for what turned out to be one of Abramoff's bogus charities, getting paid $96,000. Money for the charity came from Abramoff's clients, who had benefitted from legislation pushed by Doolittle. And the happy clients gave money to Doolittle to help him get re-elected.
Ring, who managed some of Abramoff's most prominent clients, communicated on a regular basis with Abramoff. Writing warmly of Doolittle in one e-mail, Ring told Abramoff that the congressman had worked hard to help Abramoff's clients and was "a good soldier, doing everything we asked of him." Ring told Abramoff that he should "get something" for the congressman. Doolittle wanted money for his campaign, and he got it.
Ring's indictment shows that the legal noose appears to be moving perilously close to the 57-year-old Doolittle, whose Virginia home was raided by the FBI last year. He is raising money for his defense from supporters and other politicians, including $10,000 from Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. And he has hired a top-notch criminal attorney, David Barger, a former federal prosecutor who served as an aide to Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr during the Clinton administration.
Richard Hibey, Ring's attorney, said his client had not committed any crimes and that he had been pressured by the Justice Department to plead guilty and implicate others as a way to get a light sentence.
Doolittle had nothing to say about Ring's indictment, leaving questions to his attorney. But Barger said earlier this week that the indictment contained "gratuitous references to the congressman and his wife to titillate the public" and embarrass and pressure Doolittle. Barger did not respond to a request to comment for this story.
Doolittle's ties to Abramoff have severely tarnished his reputation. On Wednesday, a group called the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics put Doolittle on its top 21 list of the "Most Corrupt Members of Congress." Doolittle, who has represented northern California in Congress since the early 1990s, is not seeking re-election.
Ring, who pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges that include public corruption and obstruction of justice, is accused of giving Doolittle and his employees free tickets to concerts, sporting events and meals at top-notch restaurants in Washington. One meal for Doolittle's staffers in 2002 cost more than $2,000, and Ring charged it to his expense account.
According to the indictment, Ring went out of his way to try to protect public officials who accepted free gifts from Abramoff. At times, Ring filed expense reports seeking reimbursement from Abramoff, attempting to conceal the true identity of those who accepted gifts. Prosecutors said Ring, as a former Capitol Hill staffer, knew that members of Congress would violate ethics rules if they truthfully revealed the full value of gifts they had accepted from Abramoff.
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