A former government official facing corruption charges for accepting improper gifts from Jack Abramoff is taking an unusually aggressive approach in fighting the Justice Department’s case.
Horace Cooper, a legal commentator and conservative writer who was a senior aide in then-Rep. Dick Armey’s (R-Texas) office, is accusing prosecutors of dozens of mistakes and has invoked the prosecutorial abuse investigation that overturned the conviction of former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) in an attempt to undermine the government’s case.
Cooper, an attorney himself, pleaded not guilty last week to felony corruption charges, including accepting nearly $15,000 in gifts, tickets to sporting events and expensive meals in return for providing benefits for Abramoff clients.
A memo citing a laundry list of alleged mistakes prosecutors made in the indictment is circulating among his supporters. It is unclear who authored the memo, titled “Horace Cooper’s Indictment: Quest for Truth or Justice Department Error?” although contact information for Cooper’s attorney, Soloman Wisenberg of Barnes and Thornberg, is listed at the top of it.
Wisenberg would not say who wrote it or discuss its contents.
The four-page memo accuses the Justice Department’s (DOJ) Public Integrity Unit of making dozens of factual errors in its indictment, including incorrect dates, price values and information about events, some of which could have been corrected by a “simple Google search.”
“Are these bogus claims being made in order to malign Horace Cooper in the media, create the impression of his guilt and pressure him to enter a guilty plea rather than contest the charges against him, or are they the result of sloppy investigating on the part of the [DOJ’s] troubled Public Integrity Section?” the memo asks.
A federal judge in Stevens’s trial ordered an investigation into allegations of misconduct by prosecutors in the DOJ public integrity section after overturning the senator’s conviction on corruption charges. The six federal lawyers were accused of mishandling evidence and witnesses.
DOJ spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined to comment directly on the memo’s contents.
“If and when Mr. Cooper chooses to address any issues before the court, we will respond in that venue, not through the media,” she said.
The memo appears to be an attempt to burnish Cooper’s reputation, but it’s unclear whether it will help his defense.
The move could anger prosecutors, none of whom were involved in the Stevens case.
Some of the claims also may have a limited impact. Most of the mistakes the memo lists are related to sporting events or concerts Cooper never attended, but the indictment accuses Cooper of accepting tickets, not attending events. In fact, it specifically notes that Cooper often gave tickets to others as if they were his.
The memo also doesn’t address other charges, including a Super Bowl party Abramoff allegedly allowed Cooper to host for dozens of friends at Stacks, then one of Abramoff’s restaurants. The memo says that it is only the “first in a series,” so it is possible that Cooper plans to refute those charges in subsequent memos.
In one instance, the memo says Cooper is accused of attending a Bruce Springsteen concert in an MCI Center suite. Instead, it claims he spent the evening and the entire weekend packing and moving out of his townhouse and into the home he continues to live in.
In another example, the indictment accuses Cooper of attending a Washington Wizards game when he was actually in Los Angeles making an appearance on HBO’s “Politically Incorrect.”
Cooper also has alibis for Amy Grant, Alan Jackson and Dixie Chicks concerts, as well as a concert featuring TLC, Christina Aguilera and Destiny’s Child, Washington Redskins and Wizards games and a Harlem Globetrotters show, the memo states.
The memo even notes Cooper’s distaste for rap music to distance him from a rap concert.
“Horace Cooper never attended, as the Public Integrity Section claims, on or about Nov. 30, 2000, a rap music concert in the MCI Center suite and has never attended a rap music concert,” the memo states.
Additionally, the memo accuses prosecutors of inflating the value of events Cooper has said he attended, including Redskins and Baltimore Orioles games.
Instead of finding the correct values, prosecutors used billing records from Preston Gates, the memo said. Abramoff and his associates exaggerated the prices of tickets in billing records at Preston Gates in order to be reimbursed at a higher rate, the memo said.
Former DOJ prosecutors contacted for this story said Cooper’s arguments could force prosecutors to review the indictment to ensure they have the correct values listed.
If Cooper did not attend some of the events but accepted the tickets and passed them on to others, it could lighten the case against him because it speaks to his mindset when he was filling out the required financial disclosure forms, one legal expert said, by explaining why he may have thought he didn’t need to report them. Prosecutors must prove that he willfully failed to include certain gifts on the forms.