Citing prosecutorial misconduct, the Justice Department this morning asked a federal judge to drop all charges against former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, and void his convictions on seven counts of lying about gifts from oil services company executives. In a statement, US Attorney General Eric Holder said that he would not seek a new trial.
Judge Sullivan has repeatedly delayed sentencing and criticized trial prosecutors for what he has called prosecutorial misconduct. At one point, prosecutors were held in contempt. Things got so bad that the Justice Department finally replaced the trial team, including top-ranking officials in the Public Integrity Section, which is charged with prosecuting public corruption cases.
With more ugly hearings expected, Holder is said to have decided late Tuesday to pull the plug. His decision is said to be based on Stevens’ age — he’s 85 — and the fact that Stevens is no longer in the Senate. Perhaps most importantly, Justice Department officials say Holder wants to send a message to prosecutors throughout the department that actions he regards as misconduct will not be tolerated.
“The Department of Justice must always ensure that any case in which it is involved is handled fairly and consistent with its commitment to justice,” Holder said in his statement.
As much as I think the facts support Stevens’ conviction, I can’t really argue with Holder’s logic or actions. After the Bush administration’s gross mismanagement and politicization, it will take years for Holder to clean up DOJ and restore its morale, and today’s move in such a high profile case does indeed send a strong message.
I admit to a sense of personal satisfaction in having seen Uncle Ted go down, but if somebody as powerful as a US senator couldn’t expect prosecutors to follow the law, how could you or I? We are a nation of laws, so better a guilty man go free than tolerate prosecutorial misconduct that puts the innocent at risk.