Se­na­tor rips mis­con­duct in Stevens case

Jus­tice Depart­ment’s prose­cu­tors with­held ev­i­dence, says probe re­port

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY CHUCK NEUBAUER

The Demo­cratic chair­man and rank­ing Re­pub­li­can on the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee said at a hear­ing Wed­nes­day the pros­e­cu­to­rial mis­con­duct un­cov­ered by a spe­cial coun­sel in the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s pros­e­cu­tion of the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens can­not be tol­er­ated.

“What hap­pened in the Stevens case should not hap­pen again, whether the de­fen­dant is prom­i­nent or an in­di­gent de­fen­dant,” said Sen. Pa­trick J. Leahy, Ver­mont Demo­crat and com­mit­tee chair­man. “Sig­nif­i­cant ev­i­dence was not dis­closed to the de­fense and crit­i­cal mis­takes were made through­out the course of the trial that de­nied Sen. Stevens a fair op­por­tu­nity to de­fend him­self.

“The slop­pi­ness, mis­takes and poor de­ci­sions in con­nec­tion with the Stevens case dis­turbed the judge hear­ing the case and dis­turb me,” he said. “The Jus­tice Depart­ment needs to en­sure that such a sit­u­a­tion is never re­peated.”

Sen. Chuck Grass­ley of Iowa, the com­mit­tee’s rank­ing Re­pub­li­can, went a step fur­ther, adding that “a lot went wrong in the pros­e­cu­tion of Sen. Stevens” and yet “it seems no­body has been held ac­count­able.”

He said the com­mit­tee had “an obli­ga­tion to hold Jus­tice ac­count­able for what went wrong here and pre­vent it from hap­pen­ing again in the fu­ture.”

Their com­ments came at a com­mit­tee hear­ing on a court-or­dered re­port on the botched Stevens pros­e­cu­tion. The sole wit­ness was Henry F. Schuelke III, the court-ap­pointed spe­cial coun­sel who wrote a blis­ter­ing 514-page re­port.

The Schuelke re­port, which the Ad­min­is­tra­tive Of­fice of the U.S. Courts said cost nearly $1 mil­lion, said Jus­tice Depart­ment lawyers bun­gled the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and pros­e­cu­tion, say­ing the probe was per­me­ated by the “sys­tem­atic con­ceal­ment of sig­nif­i­cant ex­cul­pa­tory ev­i­dence.” It said ev­i­dence was with­held, some in­ten­tion­ally, that would have in­de­pen­dently cor­rob­o­rated Stevens’ de­fense and se­ri­ously dam­aged the cred­i­bil­ity of the key wit­ness against him.

Prose­cu­tors are re­quired to turn over ex­cul­pa­tory ma­te­ri­als to the de­fense.

A jury con­victed Stevens on Oct. 27, 2008, on seven felony counts of fail­ing to dis­close more than $250,000 worth of home ren­o­va­tions and other gifts, mainly from an Alaskan oil ser­vice com­pany. A few days later, he nar­rowly lost a bid for re-elec­tion to Sen. Mark Begich, a Demo­crat. Stevens died in a plane crash in Au­gust 2010.

U.S. Dis­trict Judge Em­met G. Sul­li­van threw out the case in April 2009 at the re­quest of the Jus­tice Depart­ment, which found af­ter trial that ex­cul­pa­tory ev­i­dence had been with­held. Judge Sul­li­van ap­pointed Mr. Schuelke to in­ves­ti­gate six prose­cu­tors in­volved in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and trial.

“This is a sad story,” Mr. Schuelke told the com­mit­tee. “I took no joy in com­ing to this con­clu­sion. I hope I never have to do it again.” He said if prose­cu­tors had dis­closed some of the ex­cul­pa­tory in­for­ma­tion to the Stevens de­fense team, “it may well have af­fected the out­come of the trial.”

“The mo­tive to win the case was the prin­ci­pal op­er­at­ing mo­tive,” he said, adding that he did not think prose­cu­tors acted out of “an­i­mus” to Stevens.

Mr. Schuelke also said while some of what hap­pened was “broadly il­le­gal,” he could not bring crim­i­nal con­tempt charges against two prose­cu­tors he thought had in­ten­tion­ally with­held ex­cul­pa­tory in­for­ma­tion be­cause the judge had not specif­i­cally is­sued an or­der telling them to turn over such ev­i­dence. He said had an or­der been is­sued, he would have gone af­ter the prose­cu­tors for crim­i­nal con­tempt.

Mr. Grass­ley said that while Stevens’ rights were in­ten­tion­ally vi­o­lated, “it seems no one was held ac­count­able.” He said the Schuelke re­port con­tained “shock­ing state­ments that call into ques­tion the con­duct of those in­volved in this pros­e­cu­tion, and threat­ens to res­onate fur­ther through­out the Jus­tice Depart­ment.”

The Jus­tice Depart­ment’s of­fice of pro­fes­sional re­spon­si­bil­ity is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the al­le­ga­tions.

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