WASHINGTON — Michael K. Deaver's defense lawyers were told Wednesday that they could not argue to jurors that the former presidential aide's alcoholism impaired his memory when he was answering questions about his lobbying business.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who is presiding at Deaver's perjury trial, said the defense had presented only hearsay evidence that Deaver suffered from alcoholism.
The defense has contended that Deaver's memory was so clouded by alcoholism that he honestly could not recall key lobbying contacts when questioned by a House subcommittee and a grand jury.
"I'm not letting it go to the jury," Jackson said. "I'm taking that away. The issue of alcoholism is not going to be injected into the arguments."
Deaver's lawyers did not comment publicly on the decision, which was a major blow to their case. There can be no appeal of the trial judge's ruling unless Deaver is convicted.
Several months ago, Jackson ruled that the defense could present testimony from medical experts that Deaver suffered a memory impairment as a result of bouts with alcoholism. Prospective jurors were questioned as to whether they thought alcoholism was a disease or a sign of weakness.
In his opening statement to jurors, defense lawyer Herbert J. Miller Jr. said Deaver had a serious drinking problem but had heroically overcome his alcoholism after joining Alcoholics Anonymous.
However, the defense rested without calling any witnesses, including medical experts who would have testified about the effects on memory of excessive alcohol use.
During cross-examination, three former employees of Deaver's lobbying firm testified that his erratic, moody behavior and problems with memory were explained once they learned that he was a recovering alcoholic. Deaver was hospitalized for alcoholism in June, 1985, and November, 1986.
The judge's ruling does not preclude the defense from arguing that Deaver suffered a memory lapse, but alcoholism cannot be mentioned as the cause or even a factor in the loss of recollection.
The former White House aide is accused of lying to a House subcommittee and a grand jury that investigated possible ethics law violations in the conduct of his lobbying business.
Final arguments to the jury are scheduled for today, and the case could go to the jury Friday.