By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
The bungling Justice Department Abramoff lobbying prosecution of an ex-Bushie and conservative pundit ended on a startling note today when federal lawyers agreed to drop its five-count felony indictment in exchange for a guilty plea by Horace Cooper to a simple misdemeanor.
"My family and I are so grateful that this ordeal is over. It will be so good to get this whole thing behind me," said Cooper after leaving court with assurances that the maximum sentence he'll face will be up to six months in prison and a $500 fine. Under the original indictment, he had faced a sentence of up to 40 years and a fine of $250,000. Sentencing of the 44-year-old former aide to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey is on July 1.
After Cooper pleaded guilty to filing a false disclosure report in 2003 while working at the Labor Department, the lead prosecutor in the case refused to answer questions.
Cooper's legal team issued a statement (printed below) that noted that his case was the only one in the Justice Department's celebrated prosecution of former lobbyists Jack Abramoff and his associates that ended in a misdemeanor where the plaintiff didn't testify against others allegedly involved.
Initially, Justice leveled five charges, including conspiracy, against Cooper. He was charged with allegedly taking sports and concert tickets and free meals from Abramoff. The one-time lobbyist pleaded guilty in January 2006 to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, honest services fraud, and tax evasion. Abramoff was sentenced in September 2008 to 48 months in prison and is cooperating in the investigation.
In the Cooper case, the judge slapped the prosecutor for a sloppy indictment and for not stating what it is the government thought Cooper provided Abramoff in return for the gifts. Last month, the judge threatened to rip up much of the case if the prosecution didn't cough up a better case. They didn't and instead went with the simple misdemeanor charge.
Below is the statement from Cooper's attorney.
GOVERNMENT AGREES TO DISMISSAL OF ALL FELONY CHARGES AGAINST DEFENDANT IN ABRAMOFF-RELATED PROSECUTION
Attorneys from Ropes & Gray LLP, in connection with the federal Public Defender's office in Washington, D.C., achieved a high-profile victory this week in a white-collar criminal case related to the ongoing conspiracy surrounding the Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Ropes & Gray's client, prominent conservative political commentator Horace Cooper, was charged with five felony counts of conspiracy to commit fraud on the United States and to perform official acts in exchange for illegal gratuities, making false statements under 18 U.S.C. § 1001, and obstruction of justice. Following an extended hearing on pretrial motions to dismiss filed by Ropes, Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia summarily dismissed a false statements charge against Mr. Cooper and stated that other charges, including conspiracy and another false statements charge, would likely be dismissed before trial as well.
Following the hearing, prosecutors from the Public Integrity Section of the United States Department of Justice offered to dismiss all charges against Mr. Cooper (the remaining four felony counts) and allow him to plead to a misdemeanor charge of falsely certifying records. Mr. Cooper is the first defendant in any Abramoff prosecution to receive only a misdemeanor without providing significant evidence against other individuals, and even most of the cooperating defendants in the scandal have pled to felonies. Under the plea agreement, which was entered in a plea hearing on Wednesday, April 7, the United States will dismiss the indictment against Mr. Cooper following his sentencing on the misdemeanor charge.
Mr. Cooper, a former chief of staff for former Rep. Dick Armey and a nationally recognized conservative commentator and author, has been described as a Republican "Top Gun" in a front page Washington Times profile. He has served as a Senior Fellow with two Washington, D.C. based think tanks: the Centre for New Black Leadership and the National Center for Public Policy Research. He also writes a regular political analysis column for the Washington Times and United Press International and has served as a professor at the George Mason University School of Law. Mr. Cooper is also well known for his frequent appearances as a panelist on the HBO television program "Politically Incorrect."
Said Mr. Cooper: "My family and I are so grateful that this ordeal is over. It will be so good to get this whole thing behind me."
Lead counsel from Ropes & Gray was Ryan Malone, an attorney in the Government Enforcement Group in the Washington, D.C. office of Ropes & Gray. Also on the Ropes team were Colleen Conry, Joe Pull, John Carroll, Cassandra Welch, Jason Idilbi, and Tony Biagioli.
Michelle Peterson and Mary Petras from the Federal Public Defender's office also represented Mr. Cooper.