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Another Senior Bush Justice Official Takes the Fifth?

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David Ayres was at the pinnacle of power and influence in the first four years of the Bush Administration. As Attorney General John Ashcroft’s chief of staff, he ran his office and was viewed as the attorney general’s voice in much of the department. When Ashcroft departed to launch his own legal practice, Ayres went along with him. Now papers filed in the prosecution of another former Bush Justice official show that Ayres has been denied immunity by the Justice Department and has stated that he intends to take the Fifth Amendment if called to testify in the criminal case. What is Ayres’s concern?

It stems from the Abramoff investigation. Recently filed government papers state that prosecutors

believe that David Ayres helped Ring secure government funds for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (the “Choctaw”), specifically funds for a justice center on the Choctaw’s reservation. After the decision was made to grant the Choctaw those funds, Ring sought David Ayres’s further help to ensure that the Choctaw could award the construction contract for the justice center to a contractor of its choosing. In March 2002, Ring, with Jack A. Abramoff’s consent, gave David Ayres tickets to the March Madness NCAA college basketball tournament at the then-MCI Center. The evidence at trial will show that Ring hoped and intended that David Ayres would “pay … back” Ring and his lobbying colleagues for those and other things of value.

The papers go on to say that Ayres’s wife Laura later solicited and received several expensive tickets to professional basketball games at the MCI Center in Washington, saying she wanted to give them to Ayres as a birthday present.

The Choctaw were a prominent Abramoff client, and their money flowed freely into Republican electoral coffers while Abramoff was advising them—fueling a strong Republican effort to defeat Alabama’s Democratic Governor Don E. Siegelman, for instance.

As noted by the website Anti-Corruption Republican, which broke this story, the fact that prosecutors are refusing to immunize Ayres suggests that there is a reasonable prospect that charges will yet be brought against him. Otherwise, his evidence could be compelled by granting immunity, and it would clearly aid in building the case against the former Justice official who is being prosecuted in this case, Kevin Ring. Zachary Roth offers more detail about the case here.

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