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Justice Department Urges Suspensions for Misconduct in Stevens Case

Two Justice Department prosecutors who engaged in reckless professional misconduct that derailed the prosecution of the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) will be suspended without pay, a disciplinary unit within the agency announced this week.

The departments Professional Misconduct Review Unit recommended that Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Bottini and James Goeke be suspended for 40 days and 15 days, respectively. The decisions were mailed to the two attorneys on Wednesday and delivered today to the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary committees as attachments to a letter.

We recognize that the Stevens case is a matter of significant congressional and public interest, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas). Under these extraordinary circumstances and in light of the tremendous priority that the Committee has placed on this matter we are prepared to accommodate the Committees oversight needs by providing you with the enclosed materials.

Attached to the letter summarizing the departments findings was a 627-page report that the departments Office of Professional Review completed last August, disciplinary proposals for the two attorneys, their written responses and the final decisions that were mailed this week. Bottini and Goeke have 30 days to appeal the decisions to the Merit Systems Protection Board, a quasi-independent judicial agency that services executive branch agencies.

Stevens was indicted, tried and found guilty in the fall of 2008 of making false statements on his annual financial disclosure forms filed with the Senate. Prosecutors alleged and a jury agreed that Stevens should have disclosed gifts he had received in connection with the remodeling of a home he owned in Girdwood, Alaska, because he had not paid for the full value of the repairs.

The verdict was set aside months later when the Justice Department said its prosecutors had failed to hand over evidence that could have bolstered Stevens defense, as required by law.

U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, who presided over Stevens trial, appointed special counsel Henry Schuelke to investigate the conduct of the six attorneys in the Justice Departments Public Integrity Section who were responsible for the Stevens case and recommend whether they could be prosecuted.

When Schuelkes 500-page report was unsealed in March, it revealed how the Stevens case had been permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated Senator Stevenss defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the governments key witnesses.

The reports release ignited Congressional interest in the issue.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced bipartisan legislation the same day that is designed to reinforce the governments court-established obligation to share information in its possession that is favorable to the defense. Both the Senate and House judiciary committees quickly scheduled hearings on Schuelkes report.

Leahy said today that the committees next hearing on the matter will be held June 6.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, released a statement on the report on the Stevens prosecution.

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