The Washington Examiner's Timothy P. Carney weighed in today on the trial of Kevin Ring -- a former lobbyist and associate of Jack Abramoff who faces felony charges for allegedly taking part in an illegal pay-to-play scheme.
Carney asserts that the prosecution, lacking concrete evidence against Ring, has instead attacked the lobbying profession as a whole.
Tellingly, the prosecution, rather than sticking to hard facts and a narrow argument, is building a broad narrative that wanders away from Ring's actions to those of his convicted colleagues. Without a smoking gun, the government is painting a picture of a sordid line of work.
But is he a criminal? Did Ring -- by playing to the weakness and avarice of the men and women charged with the public trust -- break a law? Nothing the prosecution has presented so far makes that case. So far, it looks like Ring played by the crooked rules of a crooked game. Ring faces a second trial on unrelated obstruction of justice charges, but his current trial is pinned to the vague "conspiracy" charges.
National Journal's Under the Influence Blog quoted Ring's defense attorney, Andrew Wise, underscoring that same sentiment in his opening statement:
"You're going to hear about things that should be a crime, but they were not. Kevin Ring played by the rules."
Some legal observers agree that no matter how unseemly gratuities might appear, it's not against the law to give, just to accept.
According to Under the Influence, if convicted Ring could be sentenced to 127 years of jail time for furnishing Congressional staffers with dinners, gifts and tickets to sporting events. Other Abramoff associates charged with crimes, however, have received probation and fines instead of jail time.
Good government watchdog Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, told the AP earlier this month that Ring's "business as usual" defense doesn't mean that what he did was proper: "Claiming that you are doing the normal lobbying practices in Washington may or may not be true, depending on the facts, but in any event don't justify the legitimacy of the activities."