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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

Lobbyist says he was pressured to testify against Espy

October 31, 1998
Web posted at: 12:14 p.m. EST (1714 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Contradicting his own plea agreement, lobbyist Richard Douglas testified he gave gifts to Mike Espy out of friendship, not in an effort to influence the former Agriculture Secretary's decision-making.

Douglas, who earlier testified that Espy asked him to lie, turned on prosecutors, emotionally accusing the government of using strong-arm tactics to obtain his testimony against Espy.

Douglas's charge came on his third day on the witness stand. He is a critical government witness, the first to directly accuse Espy of wrongdoing.

Espy is charged with 38 counts of accepting illegal gifts from companies he regulated at USDA. He has denied the allegations.

Douglas said he agreed to plead guilty to making false statements because Independent Counselor Donald Smaltz had Douglas's family in his "rifle sights" and had sent "storm troopers" after his brother-in-law, a janitor, in order to secure Douglas's cooperation.

"You're the one with millions and millions and millions of dollars," Douglas told Smaltz. "God knows, if I had $30 million I could find dirt on you, sir!"

The debate centered on Douglas's plea agreement with Smaltz on a charge of lying to FBI agents about tickets Espy and Douglas used to attend a Chicago Bulls playoff game.

The agreement states that Douglas was motivated to give Espy gifts because Espy could steer contracts and policy decisions in favor of Sun Diamond Growers, Inc., Douglas's employer.

In return for his testimony, Smaltz agreed not to seek a prison sentence for Douglas.

At the time, Douglas faced three separate trials and 59 years in prison for indictments brought by Smaltz, according to Douglas.

In addition, Smaltz had just begun a tax evasion investigation of Douglas, he said.

Under cross examination from defense counsel Theodore Wells, Douglas admitted he made the deal to save himself.

"By giving them Mike, I could get off the hook," he said.

But he conceded, "it is a true statement that I did not give Mike Espy gifts because he was Secretary."

"You gave gifts to Mike Espy out of friendship, right?" Wells pressed. "Yes," Douglas said.

Douglas, a former USDA executive in the Reagan Administration, said he dreamed of becoming the Agriculture Secretary in a second Bush Administration.

He said he wanted to prove to Espy, an old college friend, that he was a Washington player.

"This was a way to build myself up in his eyes. Mike knew he had something I didn't have so I wanted to show I had something he didn't have."

Douglas, who like Espy is African-American, was close to tears when he compared his life to Espy's.

"We chose completely different paths to make our successes. I chose the opportunistic path -- I supported Clarence Thomas and took grief for working for Ronald Reagan. Mike went to Mississippi and worked for the black people of Mississippi. He had a moral center. That was the thing I envied. That was what I was jealous of. It was always my dream to be a cabinet officer. He didn't sell his soul to be successful. I was jealous," he said.

Douglas compared Espy, the first black Secretary of Agriculture, to baseball's Jackie Robinson. He told the nearly all black jury that he had warned Espy that he would be held to a different standard because of his race and must appear "squeaky clean."

"Hell, if they were gonna lock Mike up for going to football games and tennis matches, they would have to lock up a lot of people in this town."

Douglas, a star government witness, faced two and a half days of combative direct examination from Smaltz. Many of Smaltz's questions dealt with issues the jury has already heard in detail from other witnesses.

One lawyer, who is not a prosecution or defense counsel, said Smaltz should have quit his examination after the first couple of hours, after Douglas said Espy asked him to lie and before Douglas told the jury that Smaltz had pressured him into cutting a deal.

"That was the worse case of lawyering I've seen in my entire life," the lawyer said about Smaltz.

Cross examination will continue Monday.


Saturday, October 31, 1998

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