Prosecutors’ misconduct in the failed corruption case against late Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens doesn’t warrant criminal contempt charges, a lawyer appointed to investigate the matter reported.
Special counsel Henry F. Schuelke III didn’t recommend bringing charges for criminal contempt because the evidence was insufficient to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the prosecutors violated a “clear and unequivocal” court ruling, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan wrote in an order today that summarized the findings of Schuelke’s unreleased report.
Even so, Schuelke’s report outlined “concealment and misconduct that was previously unknown and almost certainly would never have been revealed,” wrote Sullivan, who oversaw the trial and appointed Schuelke. Prosecutors systematically concealed “significant exculpatory evidence” that would have weakened the credibility of key government witnesses in the 2009 political corruption case, he said.
Sullivan said he intends to make the 500-page report public after the Justice Department and Stevens’ attorneys have had a chance to review it. He set aside the verdict against Stevens in April, 2009, and ordered an investigation into whether prosecutors’ conduct, which he said was the worst he had seen in 25 years on the bench, was criminal.
The Justice Department abandoned the case after Attorney General Eric Holder discovered the prosecutors had withheld evidence that would have helped Stevens contest charges he omitted $250,000 worth of gifts on his financial disclosure reports.
The Justice Department is reviewing the order, spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said.
Those investigated included William Welch II, chief of the Justice Department’s public integrity section, Brenda Morris, the principal deputy director, and four other members of the trial team. The section prosecutes public officials and government employees for corruption.
The Office of Professional Responsibility in a separate, unreleased investigation found “no misconduct” on the part of Brenda Morris, said her attorney, Chuck Rosenberg of Hogan Lovells US LLP. Rosenberg said he had no comment on the special prosecutor’s report.
Welch’s attorney, William W. Taylor III of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, didn’t immediately respond to telephone and e-mail requests for comment on Sullivan’s order.
Stevens, who represented Alaska for four decades in the U.S. Senate, died in August, 2010, in the crash of a small plane in the state along with four other people.
A 2007 conviction against Victor Kohring, another former Alaska state lawmaker who was charged with extortion and bribery as a result of the same investigation, was also set aside in an appeals court ruling in March after a three-judge panel in San Francisco also found that prosecutors withheld information favorable to Kohring’s case.
Schuelke, a Washington lawyer who is a former U.S. prosecutor and military judge, reviewed more than 150,000 pages of documents, conducted 12 depositions and interviewed “numerous” witnesses to complete the report, according to Sullivan’s order. He was helped by his colleague, William B. Shields, another Washington lawyer, the order said.
Sullivan ordered the Justice Department to unseal the relevant pleadings in the Stevens and Kohring cases, along with those of two other cases, by December 5, barring any objections from the government.
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