The article gave the wrong title for the chief of the Justice Department's criminal division. Lanny A. Breuer is an assistant attorney general. In addition, a photo caption accompanying the article incorrectly said that prosecutor Brenda Morris had been reassigned. She continues to work in the department's public integrity section.
Months After Ted Stevens Debacle, Justice Department Corruption Unit in Disarray
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Two months after prosecutors abandoned the criminal conviction of former senator Ted Stevens, the Justice Department unit that polices public corruption remains in chaos, coping with newly discovered evidence that threatens to undermine other cases while department leaders struggle to reshuffle the ranks.
William Welch and Brenda Morris, senior managers in the department's Public Integrity Section who supervised the case against the Alaska Republican, have been moved into other roles following the transfer this month of two of their subordinates, who worked on lengthy investigations of Alaskan influence peddling, according to four sources.
At the same time, document-sharing lapses that provoked the Stevens turnaround are also affecting other bribery prosecutions in the state, prompting authorities to take the extraordinary step of releasing two Alaska lawmakers from prison late last week. A new team of government lawyers and FBI agents is reviewing thousands of pages of evidence, trying to assuage the concerns of judges and fielding complaints from defense attorneys.
The developments represent a continuing distraction inside the Justice Department, where new leaders had vowed to restore morale in the career ranks after allegations of political interference during the Bush era, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Before the Stevens debacle, the public integrity unit had been handling a full slate of complex investigations that involved Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), Rep. Jack John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) and former representative John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.), among others.
Now, even as prosecutors from the unit are fighting an internal department ethics probe and a separate criminal inquiry launched by the trial judge in the Stevens case, some of their targets are enjoying their freedom.
Stevens, who lost a reelection battle just days after his conviction last November, is considering penning a book about his six terms in office. Peter Kott, former Republican speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives, and Victor Kohring, a veteran Republican legislator there, returned from prison Thursday and reunited with their families after nearly a year.
Both Kott and Kohring appeared yesterday in an Anchorage courtroom, where a judge ruled they could remain free on personal recognizance. U.S. District Judge John W. Sedwick had directed the government to "advise the court and defendant of the status of its investigation of discovery violations by the United States' previous counsel."
New members of the prosecution team told the judge that they would finish sharing previously unproduced materials by July 31. Already, defense attorneys for the former Alaska legislators have secured scores of pages of newly disclosed materials from the government on the condition that they keep the documents secret.
John Henry Browne, an attorney for Kohring, said he was expecting a dozen or so documents but instead is sorting through a stack of more than 1,000 pages.
"There are a number of smoking guns in here," Browne said. "I wouldn't be surprised if the Justice Department sometimes dismisses these cases" rather than expose the former prosecutors to cross examination about their alleged failure to share documents.
Department sources said no decisions had been made about how to proceed in the Kott and Kohring cases.