A federal court today unsealed a special report describing the widespread misconduct that derailed the prosecution and corruption conviction of the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), over the objections of some of the prosecutors who handled the case.
The 500-page report by special counsel Henry F. Schuelke was based on the review of 150,000 pages of documents and the deposition of 12 witnesses. The report details how prosecutors “intentionally withheld and concealed significant exculpatory information” from Stevens’ defense team and knew of a witness providing false testimony.
“The investigation and prosecution of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens were permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated Senator Stevens’s defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government’s key witnesses,” Schuelke wrote.
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who presided over Stevens’ corruption trial in the fall of 2008, appointed Schuelke to investigate and possibly prosecute the six attorneys in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section who were responsible for the botched Stevens case.
Stevens was indicted, tried and found guilty of making false statements on his annual financial disclosure forms filed with the Senate because prosecutors alleged he did not disclose gifts he had received in connection with the remodeling of his Girdwood, Alaska, home. But the verdict was set aside after the Department of Justice said its prosecutors had failed to hand over evidence that would have bolstered Stevens’ defense.
Stevens, who lost re-election shortly after his conviction, died when his planed crashed in rural Alaska in August 2010.
Stevens attorney Brendan Sullivan “was not aware when he gave his opening statement, and never learned during or after the trial, that the prosecutors possessed evidence that directly corroborated Senator Stevens’s defense,” Schuelke wrote.
Though the misconduct was at times intentional, the lawyers should not be prosecuted because Judge Sullivan had not given them explicit directions and instead told them to simply “follow the law,” the report said.
“It should go without saying that neither Judge Sullivan, nor any District Judge, should have to order the Government to comply with its constitutional obligations, let alone that he should feel compelled to craft such an order with a view toward a criminal contempt prosecution, anticipating its willful violation,” Schuelke wrote.
Schuelke concluded, however, that without such an explicit order, the circumstances would not meet the standard required for a successful criminal prosecution.
Today's report spurred at least two lawmakers to act on perceived flaws in the prosecution process.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said today that he hoped to hold a Judiciary Committee hearing with Schuelke sometime before the April recess.
"If the press reports we've seen are true, there was some serious misconduct on the part of the federal prosecutors in withholding material," Leahy said in a statement.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) announced earlier this week that she would introduce legislation today that would require federal prosecutors to disclose evidence that benefits the defense. Though prosecutors are already required to share exculpatory evidence with defendants, Murkowski said her bill would make the process uniform across all jurisdictions.