U.S. Seeks to Drop Case Against Former Sen. Stevens
Wednesday, April 1, 2009; 2:30 PM
The Justice Department filed court papers this morning asking a federal judge to toss out the conviction of former senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) on corruption charges.
Washington Post staff writer Del Wilber was online Wednesday, April 1, at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss the case.
The move comes as a federal judge was preparing to conduct hearings to probe allegations of prosecutorial misconduct by the team that tried one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress. Stevens, 85, was convicted in October on seven counts of making false statements on financial disclosure forms to hide about $250,000 in gifts and free renovations to his Alaska home. Stevens's attorneys have urged U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan to drop the case and prevent prosecutors from seeking to retry the former senator, who lost a reelection bid about a week after his guilty verdict.
In a statement, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said he and other Justice lawyers had reviewed the case and "concluded that certain information should have been provided to the defense for use at trial."
Del Wilber: Hi, it's Del Wilber. I covered the Ted Stevens' trial and am here to discuss the news today that the Justice Department has asked a judge to toss the conviction. I'm here to take your questions.
Rockville, Md.: Thank you for hosting this Q and A, Del.
Will there be any blowback on the prosecutors who committed these infractions? Obviously the errors were big enough to have the charges dropped -- will the government lawyers have to answer for this, or are they pretty much cocooned against anything more than some bad print?
Del Wilber: This is a very good question. I don't know the answer. Holder has referred the case to the Office of Professional Responsibility to examine more thoroughly. A few outside experts said the prosecutors could face internal sanctions. The judge may also want to know more about what happened. Three have already been held in contempt by him for not complying with a court order.
Tuckahoe, N.Y. : Who were the U.S. Attorneys who withheld evidence? Why aren't their names in the story? The only one identified is the new guy who was brought in by Holder to investigate the scandal. Why is this?
washingtonpost.com: U.S. Seeks to Drop Case Against Former Sen. Stevens (Post, April 1)
Del Wilber: The Justice Department did not disclose their names in the court papers. We would publish them if we had them, I suspect.
Arlington, Va.: I guess it's really hard to convict and lock up corrupt politicians. If he were anyone else what is the likelihood he would be tried again rather than let go scot-free?
Del Wilber: I don't know. Stevens had the benefit of hiring a very experienced legal team. They have filed countless motions and were very aggressive at trial. That probably helps. I imagine asking a judge to drop a case like this is difficult for the Justice Department after it invested so much time and energy in it. If this were not as big a case and these same issues came up, prosecutors wouldn't face nearly as much -- if any -- scrutiny.
Holder criticism misguided?: The way I see it, attorneys from the Bush administration did some unfair and illegal things during the Stevens prosecution, including withholding evidence that should have been turned over to the defense. How is it possibly Holder's/Obama's fault that they left this administration holding the bag of an unwinnable case? Am I off base here?
Del Wilber: The case was brought by career prosecutors, not political appointees, in the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section. It may have been easier for Holder to come in -- as a new outsider -- to judge the evidence and ask a judge to toss the conviction than someone who has been there a long time. I have not heard anyone say the Republican Bush Administration went after Republican Ted Stevens for political reasons.
Washington, D.C.: No doubt Brady was violated but why does Eric Holder get to make the judgment about who goes to jail? TS was sentenced, so how does the AG make a decision to drop jail? Isn't that called a pardon and given his involvement with Marc Rich, doesn't he know that power belongs only to President Obama?
Del Wilber: Stevens was convicted in October. But he hasn't been sentenced. All of this legal wrangling has taken place pre-sentencing.
North East (Erie County) Pa.: Does Sen. Stevens have any legal recourse against the government for false charges, indictment, prosecutorial misconduct, conviction, etc.? Can he seek to be recompensed for his legal fees. Can he demand a new election, since it's clear that the charges and conviction led to his reelection defeat?
Del Wilber: He can't ask for a new election. But, if there is any chance that he could recoup his legal fees, I'm sure his attorneys will seek them.
Downingtown, Pa.: I don't get it. Maybe I've missed it, but I've NOT seen the DOJ assert that, with all of the compromised evidence subtracted, it didn't have enough to retry. Is this just a case of passing on a aged, defeated politician?
Del Wilber: They have the evidence to retry him, of course. And they can fix all the earlier errors. But with this latest disclosure, they might have faced a tough time getting past a judge in pre-trial motions. Prosecutors are also supposed to bring cases in a fair way. They clearly don't think the old team did that. Justice Department lawyer Paul O'Brien wrote in the memo today that they were seeking to drop the case "based on the totality of circumstances and in the interest of justice."
Portland, Oregon: Any chance the judge will refuse the request and let the conviction stand?
Del Wilber: I don't think so. He has already hammered prosecutors for various alleged misdeeds for months. So I am fairly certain he will accept it. He has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday. I promise that hearing will not end without us learning what U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan thinks about this move.
Fort Lee, N.J. : Is there a social relationship between Judge Sullivan and A.G. Holder?
Del Wilber: I don't know how close they are. Both served on the Superior Court in DC together. And both are well-known in D.C. legal circles.
Del Wilber: Thanks for your time and your excellent questions. If you have further questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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