Abramoff Fallout: Former Hill Aide Seeks Review of DOJ Conduct

Posted January 5, 2010 at 1:06pm

A former top aide to Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) who became a subject of the wide-ranging influence-peddling probe centered on ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff is seeking an internal review of a Justice Department prosecutor, accusing the federal investigator of professional misconduct. Kevin Koonce, who worked as Gregg’s legislative director from 2002 to 2004 before leaving Capitol Hill, provided Roll Call with a copy of the complaint he filed with the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility in late December.In that three-page letter, Koonce accuses prosecutor Kendall Day, a trial attorney in DOJ’s Public Integrity Section, of “harassment, prosecutorial misconduct, and abuse of power— during the department’s investigation into him in 2009.“I would like Kendall Day to be held accountable for what he did to me,— Koonce told Roll Call in an interview from his Virginia home. The Justice Department, which has never publicly identified Koonce or confirmed its investigation, declined to comment for this article. In his complaint, Koonce acknowledges that he is “Staffer F— in court documents filed in conjunction with a January 2009 plea agreement entered by House-aide-turned-lobbyist Todd Boulanger.“While my name did not appear in the literal text of [that document], it took the media, my bosses, the blogosphere, and my professional colleagues less than a day to deduce that ‘Staffer F’ was in fact ‘Kevin Koonce,’— Koonce wrote. “What is most galling, however, is that this charging document did not need to name ‘Staffer F’ or refer to me at all.—In his letter, Koonce asserts that the Justice Department included allegations against him — “Staffer F— is purported to have accepted more than $10,000 in gifts from Boulanger including tickets to baseball and hockey games, as well as meals and drinks at the now-defunct Signatures restaurant — in retaliation for his refusal to agree to extend the statute of limitations in the Justice Department’s investigation of him.Koonce also acknowledged receiving tickets from Boulanger but denounced the allegations included as part of Boulanger’s plea agreement, asserting his actions did not violate laws at the time of the events.“Todd thought everyone that accepted tickets was working for him, and that just wasn’t the case,— Koonce said in an interview. “I never did anything in the office that I thought was wrong, never mind illegal. … I was a guy who was like thousands of other staffers.—Koonce also accused the Justice Department of targeting him for prosecution as a “trophy,— noting that in January 2009 his former boss, Gregg, was preparing for his confirmation as secretary of Commerce, which he subsequently declined for unrelated reasons. Koonce’s former attorney, who is not involved in his OPR complaint, told Roll Call in November that the Justice Department had ended its probe and would not bring charges against Koonce.Koonce asserted the investigation led his former employer Sorini, Samet & Associates, where he had served as senior director of government affairs, to suspend him without pay in 2009 and later fire him.“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody. In addition [to] basically robbing me of my savings, and … it robbed me of a year of my life. I’ve just been waiting for this to go away. It never needed to happen.—Koonce said he opted to file a complaint with OPR, noting that a civil complaint would likely be difficult to pursue because DOJ did not identify him by name. “Legally, they’ll argue they didn’t do anything to me,— he said.But he could also face difficult odds procuring a review through the DOJ’s internal system. According to a report issued by the Justice Department, the Office of Professional Responsibility received more than 900 complaints in fiscal 2007, the most recent data publicly available, and accepted only about 200 of those for review. The office opened formal investigations into 71 of those reviews, the majority of which were prompted by “judicial reviews or referrals.—Criminal defense attorney Stan Brand, a former House general counsel, said such complaints are not unusual as a potential “remedy— for a person who is not charged with a crime, but he added, “My own judgment is if you’re not charged, walk away and count your blessings.—Nonetheless, Brand suggested Koonce’s complaint could benefit from recent, unrelated missteps at the Justice Department, including a criminal contempt investigation involving Public Integrity Section attorneys in the trial of ex-Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and a federal judge’s December decision to throw out federal indictments against Blackwater security guards accused of shooting Iraqi civilians, citing prosecutorial missteps.“There is a lot going on internally there to look at how these cases have been handled,— Brand said. “It’s not inconceivable he could get some traction over there.—