A key witness in the federal government’s retrial against an associate of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff has decided to recant testimony he gave in the first trial.
John Albaugh, former chief of staff to Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK), told prosecutors he no longer feels he gave favors to clients of Jack Abramoff’s firm because lobbyists had given him free meals and event tickets, the Associated Press reported.
On Tuesday, a judge described Albaugh as the prosecution’s “strongest witness.” He had previously testified that he was influenced by gifts, but the jury could not agree on whether Ring was guilty, and prosecutors are scheduled to retry Ring in three weeks.
Ring served as Abramoff’s middleman in the hiring of Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions, a political fundraising company that was headed by the wife of Rep. John Doolittle. Ring had worked for Doolittle earlier in his career. He also hosted fundraisers for Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ), who separately used Abramoff’s sports arena skyboxes on three occasions. (Read more on Ring here.)
Recanting his testimony may have an impact on a plea deal Albaugh worked out with the Justice Department. Two years ago he pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to defraud the House. DOJ officials did not tell the AP whether he had put that deal at risk.
Like Albaugh, there was another potential witness who later refused to cooperate with the prosecution. Robert Coughlin, who was an aide to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, was able to keep his plea deal and was spared a jail sentence. He was sentenced last year to a month in a halfway house and three years of probation, according to the AP.
Albaugh’s previous testimony was a large part of the last trial, said the AP:
Albaugh testified against Ring for three days in the previous trial. He said they had a “corrupt relationship,” where he would help Ring’s clients get funding on transportation projects that Istook helped oversee. In exchange, Albaugh testified, Ring treated him to dinner at expensive restaurants and gave him event tickets including ones to performances by George Strait, Tim McGraw, Disney on Ice and The Wiggles.
The judge also denied a request by three potential defense witnesses — former Ashcroft chief of staff David Ayers; his wife, Laura; and Pete Evich, a former congressional aide — to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights. They had previously invoked that privilege in the first trial, but the judge ruled they no longer risk prosecution because the statute of limitations has expired, reported the AP.