Specter Seeks Stevens Case Probe

Posted March 25, 2009 at 6:10pm

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) called Wednesday for the Senate Judiciary Committee to scrutinize allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in the criminal trial of ex-Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

“There’s an issue here as to what will happen there, and it may be a matter for oversight by this committee when the case is finished, or perhaps even sooner,— Specter said in his opening remarks at an FBI oversight hearing.

The Pennsylvania Republican referred to a December complaint filed by an FBI agent who charged fellow federal employees with misconduct in dealing with witnesses and handling evidence, including allegations that another FBI agent had an inappropriate personal relationship with one of the lead witnesses against Stevens.

That complaint is the subject of numerous post-trial motions and hearings — including contempt citations issued against three prosecutors for failing to turn over documents to the defense — and has delayed Stevens’ sentencing date.

Stevens, who has maintained his innocence, was convicted in October on seven counts of filing false financial disclosures to conceal the receipt of more than $250,000 in gifts over a six-year period. He was defeated in his re-election bid in November.

Specter queried FBI Director Robert Mueller about the case Wednesday and said he intended to put similar questions to Attorney General Eric Holder.

“I understand [Holder] is making a personal review of the Stevens matter with regard to impropriety of the prosecutors,— Specter said. “But what efforts are made at the senior echelon of mature people in your bureau to make sure that your FBI agents don’t overstep and act inappropriately because of their desire to get a so-called big target?—

Mueller said the Justice Department is investigating the allegations but declined to comment in detail citing the ongoing Stevens case.

“It is going on at least two tracks currently: The most important one being the post-trial motions in that particular case, and therefore I am somewhat precluded from speaking more about it,— Mueller said.

Specter, the Judiciary panel’s ranking member, noted that when the committee takes up the Stevens investigation is ultimately a matter for Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to decide.

During his Wednesday testimony, Mueller also told the panel that public corruption “continues to be our top criminal priority,— adding that more than 2,500 such investigations are ongoing, an increase of 58 percent since 2003.

“We remain committed to ensuring those given the public trust do not abuse it,— Mueller said. He noted that the FBI has convicted more than 1,600 federal, state and local officials in the past two years.