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Holder Asks Judge to Drop Case Against Ex-Senator Stevens
Former U.S. attorney Joseph diGenova, a Republican, praised Holder for making a tough call and reminding government lawyers that "the power to prosecute is the power to destroy. The significance of this misconduct is monumental."
Holder's decision to drop the Stevens case comes less than two weeks after a federal jury in Puerto Rico resoundingly acquitted the commonwealth's former Democratic governor, Anibal Acevedo Vila, of conspiracy and money laundering charges. Justice Department prosecutors charged Acevedo Vila last year, not long before indicting Stevens, in the midst of a tight reelection campaign that he ultimately lost.
Bradford Berenson, who worked on Vila's defense team, said public corruption cases demand acute judgment and sensitivity. "Too often they are tempted to indict marginal or ambiguous cases, and that's where they get into trouble, trying to present highly technical infractions to a jury," Berenson said.
Guy Singer, a former prosecutor, said Holder's decision "does not necessarily signify a belief in Senator Stevens's innocence, but it indicates serious concerns about the way the case was handled by both prosecutors and agents."
In his statement yesterday, Holder cautioned that an internal ethics review continues and that no determination has been made about the conduct of individual prosecutors. Calls and e-mails to several prosecutors in the case were not returned yesterday.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) last week announced his intention to investigate the way the government conducted the case. Judge Sullivan had been preparing to conduct evidentiary hearings in his own review of allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. After the Justice Department asked for the dismissal yesterday, Sullivan told both sides to appear in his courtroom Tuesday. He is likely to grant the request.
In February, Sullivan held three prosecutors -- William Welch II, Brenda Morris and Patricia Stemler -- in contempt for failing to comply with a court order. Welch is the head of the public corruption unit, and Morris was the lead prosecutor. Six members of the prosecution team eventually withdrew from the case.
Brendan Sullivan, Stevens's lead attorney, told reporters yesterday that "the conduct of the prosecution was stunning to me. They were hell-bent on convicting a United States senator."
Holder assigned a team of top department lawyers to review the case and said yesterday that he made the decision after a thorough review of the evidence.
In a three-page memo that accompanied the announcement, prosecutor Paul M. O'Brien said he discovered evidence that two prosecutors did not turn over notes from an interview in April 2008 with the case's key witness, Bill Allen. Those notes contradicted a critical piece of testimony Allen later gave at trial.
Allen is the former head of Veco, a now-defunct oil services company, and a close friend of Stevens's who allegedly gave him many of the gifts and funded most of the renovations to his house. At the interview in question, according to the notes, Allen said he did not recall talking to a friend of Stevens's about sending the senator a bill for work on his home, O'Brien wrote.
Under oath at trial, however, Allen testified that he was told by the friend to ignore a note Stevens sent seeking a bill for the remodeling work. "Bill, don't worry about getting a bill" for Stevens, Allen said the friend told him. "Ted is just covering his [expletive]."
Staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.