Doug Hughes Legal Team Takes Aim at D.C. Airspace Security

Hughes leaves the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse, May 21 after pleading not guilty to six counts regarding his landing of a gyrocopter on the West Lawn of the Capitol in April. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The legal team representing Douglas Hughes plans to poke holes in congressional testimony from federal officials who were called before Congress in the wake of Hughes' April 15 landing of his gyrocopter on the Capitol's West Front Lawn.  

If the gyrocopter case goes to trial, defense attorney Mark Goldstone intends to "expose the lack of security" in the heavily restricted airspace over Washington, he told reporters Thursday after a brief status hearing at the federal courthouse. Hughes' landing sparked questions about Capitol Hill’s airspace security, and provoked the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to call seven witnesses from the spectrum of agencies that defend D.C. airspace to compile a detailed timeline of what they knew.  

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has released its own report recommending increased criminal and/or civil penalties for unauthorized breaches of the restricted skies.  

Federal military security conducted an Aug. 23 training exercise to test the North American Aerospace Defense Command's ability to identify and track "low altitude, slow speed aerial vehicles" flying in and around Washington.  

Asked about the effort to defend against gyrocopters and other ultralight aircraft, Hughes quipped that he wanted to know who the pilots were for the exercise. "They might be friends of mine," he joked.  

Hughes does not want to serve hard time for his aerial protest against what he says is the corrupting influence of money on politics. Facing two felony and four misdemeanor charges, Hughes has rejected two plea deals that he believed were too harsh. The 61-year-old, who lost his U.S. Postal Service job after the flight, remains open to another offer, but doubts the government will extend a deal that does not include a lock-up.  

Prosecutors are "retaliating against Doug with the number of charges and types of charges," said Goldstone. He is working alongside Hughes' public defender, Assistant Federal Public Defender Tony W. Miles, with legal fees raised via an online crowd-funding site.  The project surpassed its $10,000 fundraising goal in a single day.  

Tapping into popular support from campaign finance critics, Hughes said efforts are under way to deliver his letter in the district offices of members of Congress around the nation. He wants to draw local media attention to how many of their former elected officials have moved from the Capitol to lobbying jobs on K Street.  

Hughes said he is working with Public Citizen, 99Rise and the producer of the documentary "Pay 2 Play," a 2014 film that follows money in elections and aims to cast wealthy donors as villains.  

The next hearing in Hughes' case is scheduled for Oct. 8. It could involve a motion to proceed to trial.

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