In a "blistering" 500-page report released this morning a special prosecutor concludes that Justice Department lawyers "intentionally withheld" information that could have bolstered then-Sen. Ted Stevens' defense during the Alaska Republican's 2008 trial on corruption charges, NPR's Carrie Johnson tells us.
She adds that Special Prosecutor Henry Schuelke says the case against Stevens was infected by the failure to turn over evidence that could have helped him damage the credibility of the government's key witness.
Stevens, as Carrie has previously reported for us:
"Was convicted of making false statements and related charges after a five-week trial in 2008. While Stevens was appealing the decision, U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder took the extraordinary step of abandoning the case a year later, after evidence surfaced that the Justice Department team withheld documents from Stevens' defense that would have helped the former lawmaker poke holes in the account of the key witness against him."
Among the critical information that prosecutors didn't share with Stevens' attorneys:
-- Witness Rocky Williams was willing to testify that he "had the same understanding and belief as Senator Stevens and his wife" that the senator had indeed paid for renovation work done on one of his homes.
-- Witness Bill Allen, who allegedly had given "benefits and others things of value" to Stevens connected to the renovation work, provided "significant exculpatory information" about Stevens to prosecutors.
In a statement today, the law firm that represented Stevens (Williams & Connolly LLP) says the report shows that "corrupt prosecutors obtained an illegal verdict against Sen. Stevens on October 27, 2008. As a result, a sitting senator lost certain re-election and the balance of power shifted in theUnited States Senate."
The special prosecutor says, however, that "although the evidence establishes that this misconduct was intentional, the evidence is insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt" that prosecutors violated federal law, "which requires the intentional violation of a clear and unambiguous [judge's] order."
Stevens and four others died in the August 2010 crash of a small plane while they were on a fishing trip in Alaska. He was 86.
As Carrie tells our Newscast Desk, the government's actions during the Stevens case have "led to calls for new laws and federal rules to govern prosecutors' conduct."
Update at 10:35 a.m. ET. Justice Department Says "One Failure Is One Too Many":
Laura Sweeney, a Justice Department spokeswoman has emailed this statement to reporters:
"The department has cooperated fully with Mr. Schuelke's inquiry into the prosecution of former Sen. Ted Stevens and provided information throughout the process. The department is in the process of making an independent assessment of the conduct and, to the extent it is appropriate and in accordance with the privacy laws, we will endeavor to make our findings public when that review is final.
"When concerns were raised about the handling of this case following the 2008 conviction of Sen. Stevens, the department conducted an internal review that culminated in the attorney general ordering a dismissal of this case. Since that dismissal in April 2009, the department has instituted a sweeping training curriculum for all federal prosecutors, and made annual discovery training mandatory. We have taken unprecedented steps to ensure prosecutors, agents and paralegals have the necessary training and resources to properly fulfill their discovery and ethics obligations.
"We know that justice is served only when all parties adhere to the rules and case law that govern our criminal justice system. While the department meets its discovery obligations in nearly all cases, even one failure is one too many and we will continue to work with our prosecutors to ensure they have all the support and resources they need to do their jobs. But it would be an injustice of a different kind for the thousands of men and women who spend their lives fighting to uphold the law and keep our communities safe to be tainted by the misguided notion that instances of intentional prosecutorial misconduct are anything but rare occurrences."
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