- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Justice Department made an extremely rare request Wednesday to set aside the conviction of former Sen. Ted Stevens, leaving fellow Alaskans and Republicans fuming that out-of-control prosecutors had cost the Senate’s longest-serving Republican his chances for re-election with no opportunity for a “do-over.”

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. made the move in a court filing that acknowledged more prosecutorial misconduct in a case already marred by such indiscretions. The filing said prosecutors interviewed a witness but made no official record of it so as not to be forced to give the record to the defense.

“No question that if this decision had been made last year, [Mr. Stevens] would still be in the Senate,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Back in Alaska, angry voters demanded a “re-do” of the November election, in which the freshly convicted Mr. Stevens - who served as a Republican senator longer than any other in history - narrowly lost his seat to Democrat Mark Begich.

“He should have another chance,” said Steve Runyan, manager of 3 Rivers Fly and Tackle in Wasilla, Alaska. “If the trial was a sham, he is vindicated, he is innocent. What has our justice system become?”

Mr. Stevens, 85, the highest official in a generation to be convicted of federal corruption charges, released a statement that said he was “grateful” to be cleared.

“I always knew that there would be a day when the cloud that surrounded me would be removed,” he said. “That day has finally come.”

Mr. Stevens will be in court Tuesday when Judge Emmet G. Sullivan is expected to formally grant the government’s request to dismiss the case.

“After careful review, I have concluded that certain information should have been provided to the defense for use at trial,” said a statement issued by Mr. Holder. “In light of this conclusion, and in consideration of the totality of the circumstances of this particular case, I have determined that it is in the interest of justice to dismiss the indictment and not proceed with a new trial.”

A lawyer for the Alaska Republican said he was “sickened” by the new revelations “because it clearly told the story of government corruption, as they were hell-bent on convicting a United States senator.”

A jury convicted Mr. Stevens last October on seven felony counts of failing to include on financial-disclosure forms $250,000 worth of gifts and renovations to his Girdwood, Alaska, home.

“The misconduct of the prosecutors was stunning to me,” said defense attorney Brendan Sullivan. “Not only did the government fail to provide evidence to the defense that the law requires them to provide, but they created false testimony that they gave us, and they actually presented false testimony in the courtroom.”

The Justice Department has launched an internal investigation into the prosecution team that could potentially costs those lawyers their jobs.

David L. Douglass, a former assistant U.S. attorney and trial attorney in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said the move by Mr. Holder indicates an attempt to break with the department’s perceived history of overzealous prosecutions.

“I think he’s sending a signal for prosecutors to take a broad view of their responsibilities to the public and defendant,” said Mr. Douglass, now in private practice in Washington. “This a very strong signal.”

Barry J. Pollack, a white-collar defense attorney, said he believes federal prosecutors’ zeal to win convictions frequently keeps them from meeting their full obligations to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence.

“If the government really believes in its case, it can’t be afraid to let the jury see the evidence and make a decision. It’s a very encouraging sign that the new attorney general is going to take the department’s obligations seriously and hold Department of Justice prosecutors to the highest standards,” he said.

The dramatic turn of events failed to prompt any comment from several prominent Senate Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, but even the man who won the election for Mr. Stevens’ seat sympathized with him.

Mr. Begich, a former Anchorage mayor who beat Mr. Stevens by a 1.25 percentage-point margin, called the Justice Department decision “reasonable.”

“I always said I didn’t think Senator Stevens should serve time in jail, and hopefully, this decision ensures that is the case,” Mr. Begich said. “It’s time for Senator Stevens, his family and Alaskans to move on and put this behind us.”

The ranks of friends Mr. Stevens still has in Congress were not as eager to forgive and forget.

“I am deeply disturbed that the government can ruin a man’s career, and then say ‘never mind.’ There is nothing that will ever compensate for the loss of his reputation or leadership to the state of Alaska,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican.

“Our nation is governed by the rule of law, and violations of our civil liberties cannot be tolerated. Prosecutors and law enforcement have the power to bring the full weight of the government to bear on individuals. If they are willing to bend the law, they put all of our civil liberties at risk,” she said.

Another Alaska Republican, Rep. Don Young, said justice had finally been served.

“Ted was not only my colleague, but he is my good friend, and today is a great day for him and the state of Alaska,” said Mr. Young, who reportedly is himself the target of a federal investigation for taking bribes.

“It’s a shame that Alaskans lost one of the best lawmakers they’ve ever had last year over a false conviction, but his legacy in Alaska will always live on,” he said. “I join my fellow Alaskans today in standing by Ted and congratulating him and [his wife] Catherine on the courage they’ve shown throughout this ordeal and the end of this difficult journey.”

Sen. Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, one of the few Democrats to comment on the decision, told the Associated Press that he believed “the Justice Department did the right thing. I’m happy for Ted and his family.”

Despite the guilty verdict, prosecutorial misdeeds plagued Mr. Stevens’ trial. Judge Sullivan became irate at prosecutors several times for failing to reveal evidence that may have helped Mr. Stevens, but ultimately the judge decided those missteps did not warrant throwing the case out.

Mr. Stevens was never sentenced, as a flurry of revelations after trial showed even deeper flaws with the prosecution - from a witness claiming he lied with the knowledge of prosecutors, to an FBI agent on the case filing a whistleblower complaint claiming misconduct by prosecutors and another agent.

Ultimately, the judge held the Justice Department’s top corruption prosecutors in contempt for failing to turn over even more evidence. After that, Mr. Holder appointed a new team of prosecutors who promptly discovered new missteps.

According to the three-page motion filed Wednesday, the original prosecution team hid information about an interview that called into question the veracity of star witness Bill Allen. An oil magnate and one-time friend of Mr. Stevens, Allen had already pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers in Alaska and had begun cooperating in the hopes of receiving a lighter sentence.

The new prosecution team said in the filing that Allen told the previous prosecution team that he did not remember having any discussions with Bob Pearsons, a friend of Mr. Stevens.

But later, during the trial, Allen gave damaging testimony about a conversation with Mr. Pearsons that suggested Mr. Stevens knew he was doing something wrong. Allen testified that Mr. Pearsons told him Mr. Stevens had submitted bills for work on his home as a ruse to “cover” himself.

Allen also said during the interview that, if done properly, the work at Mr. Stevens’ house should only have cost up to $80,000, much less than what prosecutors said at the trial that the work was worth.

None of the information about the initial interview with authorities, which could have countered the trial testimony, was given to defense attorneys.

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