“How does the court have confidence that the Public Integrity Section has public integrity?”
That was the question Judge Emmet G. Sullivan asked last October in the face of prosecutorial misconduct by attorneys from the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section in the corruption case of former Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens.
In a front page story in the New York Times (April 2), “Mr. Stevens had faced an almost-certain prison term on the conviction. But Judge Sullivan had delayed imposing a sentence because he was considering motions by Mr. Stevens’s lawyers to throw out the conviction based on previous disclosures of prosecutorial misconduct.”
Newly appointed Attorney General and Democrat Eric Holder said in a statement that “After careful review, I have concluded that certain information should have been provided to the defense for use at trial. I have determined that it is in the interest of justice to dismiss the indictment.”
The long-serving Senator Stevens was charged “with lying on Senate disclosure forms by concealing an estimated $250,000 worth of goods and services he received, mostly to renovate a chalet he owned in Alaska. Prosecutors said he had received the bulk of the goods and services from Bill Allen, a longtime friend who had made a fortune by providing services to Alaska’s booming oil industry.
“But in their filing on Wednesday, government lawyers said they had recently learned that trial prosecutors had concealed from Mr. Stevens’s defense lawyers the notes from a 2008 interview with Mr. Allen that raised significant doubts about the charges.”
A Wall Street Journal article (April 2) said that “Mr. Allen’s trial statements were the key evidence in the case, buttressing the prosecutors’ contentions that Mr. Stevens knew he was getting valuable work done but failed to report the gifts on Senate disclosure forms.”
Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch told reporters, “Here’s a guy who gave better than 60 years’ service to our country and was screwed. Screwed by our own Justice Department.” And Hatch praised Attorney General Holder for “standing up and fixing this foul situation.”
Brendan Sullivan and Robert Cary, lawyers for Stevens, also praised Holder as “a pillar of integrity,” and warned that “any citizen can be convicted if prosecutors are hell-bent on ignoring the Constitution.”
While Holder’s statement does not say that Stevens is innocent of wrong-doing, it does make clear that the wrongful conduct on the part of prosecutors trumps charges brought against Stevens. As a result, the attorney general said he would ask that the convictions against Stevens be voided.
“Mr. Holder, himself a former prosecutor and judge,” wrote the Times, “noted that the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility was conducting a review of the prosecutors’ conduct, raising the possibility that some of those who tried Mr. Stevens on ethics charges could themselves now face ethics charges.”
This is quite a change from the previous Bush administration and former AG Alberto Gonzales policy, where lawyers were chosen based on their politics rather than a non-partisan approach to the law.
In a speech to Justice Department employees last month, Mr. Holder said, “There’s an awful lot of work we have to do. There are things, quite frankly, that we have to reverse, policy changes we have to make.”
Clearly, the new attorney general is willing to do whatever it takes to prove that under his watch integrity matters.