TOPICS > Politics

Justice Dept. Moves to Drop Charges Against Former Sen. Stevens

BY Admin  April 1, 2009 at 1:23 PM EST

Former Sen. Ted Stevens; AP file photo

Amid allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in the high-profile case, Justice is abandoning a hard-fought victory that had turned into an embarrassment for the department. The prosecutors who handled the trial have been removed from the case and their conduct is under investigation.

“After careful review, I have concluded that certain information should have been provided to the defense for use at trial,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement Wednesday. “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.”

In October, Stevens was convicted of seven felony counts of lying on Senate financial disclosure forms to conceal hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and home renovations from a wealthy oil contractor.

A week after his conviction, Stevens narrowly lost a race to retain the Senate seat he has held since 1968.

Stevens, 85, appealed his conviction and had been awaiting sentencing, which had been repeatedly delayed.

“I always knew that there would be a day when the cloud that surrounded me would be removed,” Stevens said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. “That day has finally come. It is unfortunate that an election was affected by proceedings now recognized as unfair.”

U.S. District Court Judge Emmett Sullivan set an April 7 hearing on the motion to dismiss the case.

Holder knows Sullivan well from when the two men served together as judges of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia before each was promoted to higher office, National Public Radio reported.

Stevens’ trial was beset by government missteps, which continued even after the guilty verdict was read. Sullivan grew so infuriated he took the unusual step of holding the Justice Department lawyers in contempt for failing to turn over documents as ordered. He called their behavior “outrageous.”

The judge had ordered Justice to provide the agency’s internal communications regarding a whistle-blower complaint brought by an FBI agent involved in the investigation of Stevens. The agent objected to Justice Department tactics during the trial, including failure to turn over evidence and an “inappropriate relationship” between the lead agent on the case and the prosecution’s star witness.

In court filings, the Justice Department admitted it never turned over notes from an interview with the oil contractor, who estimated the value of the renovation work as far less than he testified at trial.

Stevens’ attorneys praised Holder as “a pillar of integrity” for his decision to disregard a jury verdict that they said was obtained unlawfully.

“In essence, the government tricked the jury into returning a tainted verdict against the senator based on false evidence,” Stevens’ lawyers Brendan Sullivan Jr. and Robert Cary said in a statement.

“This case is a sad story and a warning to everyone. Any citizen can be convicted if prosecutors are hell-bent on ignoring the Constitution and willing to present false evidence,” their statement said.

Sen. Mark Begich, the Democrat who won Stevens’ seat, called the decision to drop the case “reasonable.”

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

In December, Stevens asked a federal judge to grant him a new trial or throw out the case, saying his trial had many deficiencies.

Sullivan held Justice Department lawyers in contempt in February for failing to turn over documents as ordered. He called their behavior “outrageous.”

The judge had ordered Justice to provide the agency’s internal communications regarding a whistle-blower complaint brought by an FBI agent involved in the investigation of Stevens. The agent objected to Justice Department tactics during the trial, including failure to turn over evidence and an “inappropriate relationship” between the lead agent on the case and the prosecution’s star witness.

The decision was first reported Wednesday by National Public Radio.

William Canfield, a former Stevens staffer and longtime friend, said the trial’s effects may never be undone. He said Democrats used the taint of Stevens’ legal problems as a campaign issue not just in Alaska, but in election challenges to his friends and allies, including Republican Sens. John Sununu, who was defeated, and Norm Coleman, whose close race is still being decided in court.