Senators Laud Holder’s Decision to Drop Charges Against Stevens

Posted April 1, 2009 at 2:28pm

Senate Republicans and Democrats alike on Wednesday hailed the Obama administration’s decision to drop charges against former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), arguing that the Department of Justice’s mishandling of its criminal investigation and subsequent prosecution of Stevens destroyed the credibility of the case.

Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) argued the decision to withdraw the indictment shows that Attorney General Eric Holder will not let politics interfere in his decision-making. He added that the move should help restore public confidence in the Justice Department.

“The decision of Attorney General Holder to withdraw the indictment against Ted Stevens shows clearly that he is committed to the rule of law, regardless of politics. As he works to rebuild the public’s faith in the Justice Department after the scandals of the previous administration, the new Attorney General has sent an unequivocal message that prosecutions of any kind, whether against Republicans, Democrats, Independents, or others, must be done right, and in accordance with the law,— Leahy said in a statement. “This decision should give all Americans confidence that the Justice Department will pursue public corruption investigations and prosecutions aggressively but fairly.—

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, agreed, arguing that because there was “so much prosecutorial malfesiance that no court was going to uphold— Stevens’ conviction, Holder had no choice but to pull the indictment.

Coburn and other Republicans, however, also charged that the very fact that Holder was forced to pull the case suggested that the Justice Department had made political calculations in prosecuting Stevens in the first place. “It was political. I think they were trying to get Ted Stevens. Why else would they wait until the last day to file this before an election?— Coburn argued.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who also serves on the Judiciary Committee, said that while he expects the department to provide Congress with a report on how its lawyers botched the case, the agency’s integrity is now in question. The case “casts doubt on the Department of Justice, which really is supposed to be the gold standard of prosecutions,— Kyl said.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he was pleased that the case had been dropped, but lamented the fact that it likely led to Stevens’ defeat in last fall’s election. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) ousted Stevens in the November election, which came just days after Stevens was convicted on seven felony counts for lying on his financial disclosure forms.

“It was disappointing to lose the seat, no question about it. Also no question that if this decision had been made last year he’d still be in the Senate,— McConnell said.