Editorial: Rough Justice

Posted April 10, 2009 at 1:21pm

It’s clear that the Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department engaged in misconduct — possibly criminal misconduct — during its prosecution of former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

It’s also all but certain that Stevens’ conviction within days of the 2008 elections resulted in his narrowly losing his Senate seat.

On the other hand, all the evidence suggests that Stevens did what he was accused of: accept gifts worth tens of thousands of dollars that he failed to report on his financial disclosure forms.

[IMGCAP(1)]The pictures here illustrate the point. They show Stevens’ home in Girdwood, Alaska, before and after renovations that certainly were paid for in part by the oil services firm VECO, from 2001 to 2006.

[IMGCAP(2)]There’s now a dispute whether the value of VECO’s work was $250,000, as originally alleged, or $80,000, as the Justice Department concluded as it moved to vacate the charges against Stevens while citing prosecutorial misconduct.

The fact remains, though, that Stevens did not report the gifts. He said he expected to be billed for the renovations, but he never was — over a six-year period.

He also claimed in his trial that other gifts he received — a $2,800 electric massage chair and other furniture — were “loans— from friends, but some of them have been in Stevens’ homes for eight years.

Stevens’ wife also confirmed during his trial that the couple used a Senate-paid staffer as a family bookkeeper and gofer who earned more than $250,000 in federal pay over a five-year period.

His prosecutors are undergoing investigation for repeatedly withholding evidence that might have helped his defense. Yet none of the instances would seem to nullify the evidence that Stevens accepted gifts and didn’t report them.

We’ll never know whether the jury that convicted Stevens on all counts would have done so had it heard all the evidence. Had he been acquitted, the Alaska legend likely would still be the Senate’s longest continuously serving Republican. The GOP sorely misses his vote.

So, some injustice surely has been done. On the other hand, had he retained his seat, Stevens’ conduct would deserve a thorough investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.