Former White House aide Michael K. Deaver yesterday won court permission to raise alcoholism as a defense at his upcoming perjury trial.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ruled the defense team can call expert witnesses to testify that Deaver's memory was clouded when he gave sworn testimony last year to a House subcommittee and a grand jury.
The panels were probing alleged violations of federal ethics law by the former White House deputy chief of staff. Deaver is charged with lying when he said he could not recall contacting former Reagan administration colleagues on behalf of clients after leaving the White House in May 1985 to found a public relations firm.
The defense intends to introduce evidence that Deaver's problems with alcoholism -- and his hospitalization three times in 1985 and 1986 -- impaired his memory about events critical to evidence at the trial, which is set to begin Oct. 19.
In June 1985 he was admited to Georgetown University Hospital for detoxification. During that time he is alleged to have made telephone calls to the administration on behalf of Trans World Airlines.
Defense attorney Randall Turk said Deaver was heavily sedated with valium on June 4, 1985, the day he called White House aide Roger Porter. Deaver had been hired by TWA to help it thwart an ultimately successful takeover bid by financier Carl Icahn.
The defense will present evidence that Deaver was unable to remember this alleged telephone call because of his medical condition the day he placed it, according to court papers unsealed yesterday.
Deaver was also hospitalized in January 1985, for kidney failure related to alcoholism, Turk said. Turk also said Deaver was hospitalized for alcoholism in November 1986, some five months after he testified before the grand jury and the House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee.
The judge denied a motion by independent counsel Whitney North Seymour to exclude the medical evidence that Deaver plans to introduce at trial.
Marc Gottridge, an associate independent counsel, argued that Deaver's lawyers had not presented valid scientific evidence to show that alcoholism induced amnesia that prevented Deaver from accurately testifying.
"When you're talking about amnesia, you're talking about something that has a great capability to be faked," Gottridge said. "The question is whether there is something about his alcoholism that created something scientifically provable and demonstrable about his mental state" that impaired his memory.
Jackson called the factual dispute a "classic jury question" that can be settled during the trial.