Lawyers for former White House aide Michael K. Deaver announced yesterday that they will offer no evidence to rebut testimony at his six-week trial, in which he has been accused of lying to a congressional subcommittee and a federal grand jury.
The surprising strategy, disclosed after U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson again rejected defense efforts to dismiss the charges, means that the case could go to a jury as early as Friday.
Defense lawyers said they acted because they felt that the government's case, presented over 20 days and through 52 witnesses, was weak and Jackson's rulings hampered their efforts to present a strong defense.
"We rested today based on our conclusion that the prosecution's case didn't merit a response . . . ," said Randall J. Turk, one of Deaver's lawyers.
Deaver, 49, a longtime confidant of President Reagan and former White House deputy chief of staff, has said alcoholism may have impaired his memory of events he is accused of failing to recall. He declined to comment on the defense's courtroom strategy.
Deaver's wife, Carolyn, told reporters that the decision not to present a defense was reached after prolonged discussions with lawyers during the weekend. "You make your best decision, and then you live with it," she said.
One of Jackson's rulings, which he reaffirmed yesterday, clearly made it difficult for the defense to place the defendant on the witness stand, a common strategy in perjury cases. But the judge had noted Friday that he appeared to be precluded from striking certain allegations from each of the five counts in the indictment.
Such a ruling, he noted then, would allow prosecutors to use Deaver and other defense witnesses to prove allegations that the prosecution had failed to prove on its own.
Although defense lawyers had hinted that their presentation might be made in one day, nothing indicated that chief defense lawyer Herbert J. Miller Jr. planned to make yesterday morning's stunning announcement that the defense would rest without producing evidence.
Miller's statement came moments after he had objected to the judge's announcement that he would recess the trial for two weeks during the Christmas holidays and after prosecutors and defense lawyers quarreled over what Deaver's medical experts might say about alcoholism.
"Your honor, based on the evidence that we have seen and heard over the past six weeks, the defense has decided that it has no need to put on any defense at all," Miller told Jackson. "Accordingly, we rest, your honor."
Jackson subsequently dismissed the jury and announced that he would consider arguments this morning on a renewed motion for acquittal and probably schedule closing arguments Thursday.
With the defense resting, the ground rules for this morning's hearing on a directed acquittal will change considerably.
No longer will Jackson be forced to consider the government's case in a light most favorable to the prosecutors. Because the defense has rested, he must consider the case in a light favorable to Deaver.
During a day-long hearing Friday, Jackson indicated that he was troubled seriously that prosecutors had failed to prove that Deaver actually had some of the meetings he is accused of attempting to conceal. In any perjury case, the prosecution must prove the validity of any fact that the defendant is suspected of concealing.
Prosecutor Whitney North Seymour Jr. said yesterday that he will join in the defense request to drop the contested meetings from the indictment.
That promise, however, was not enough to satisfy Miller, who signaled again that he plans to press Jackson to strike down other sections of the indictment on various grounds.
The defense is expected to argue that the memories of many Reagan administration officials about contacts with Deaver are so vague and uncertain that Deaver might also have forgotten them.
The defense is expected to contend that the government has failed to prove that Deaver's inability to remember these contacts was willful misstatement, a requirement for a perjury conviction.
The indictment, returned March 18, 1985, charges Deaver with failing to recall in congressional and grand jury testimony his contacts with more than a dozen senior administration officials shortly after he left the White House in 1985 to form a lobbying company.
If convicted of all counts, Deaver could be sentenced to 25 years in prison and fined $34,000.