Conviction Dropped in Case of Former Senator From Alaska

WASHINGTON (AP) - A seething federal judge dismissed the
corruption conviction of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens on Tuesday
and took the rare and serious step of ordering a criminal
investigation into prosecutors who poisoned the case.

"In nearly 25 years on the bench, I've never seen anything
approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I've seen in this
case," U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said.

Sullivan appointed a special prosecutor to investigate Justice
Department lawyers who repeatedly withheld evidence from defense
attorneys and the judge during the monthlong trial. Stevens was
convicted in October of lying on Senate forms about home
renovations and gifts he received from wealthy friends.

The case cost Stevens, 85, a Senate seat he had held for 40
years. Once the Senate's longest-serving Republican, he narrowly
lost to Democrat Mark Begich soon after the verdict.

Now, the case could prove career-ending for prosecutors in the
Justice Department's public corruption unit.

After Sullivan dismissed the case, Stevens turned to his friends
and held up a fist in victory as his wife and daughters broke into
loud sobs.

"Until recently, my faith in the criminal system, particularly
the judicial system, was unwavering," Stevens told the court
Tuesday, his first public comments since Attorney General Eric
Holder announced he would drop the case. "But what some members of the prosecution team did nearly destroyed my faith. Their conduct
had consequences for me that they will never realize and can never
be reversed."

The unraveling of the case overshadowed the facts of a trial in
which Stevens was shown to have accepted thousands of dollars in
undisclosed gifts.

Sullivan appointed Washington attorney Henry Schuelke to
investigate contempt and obstruction by the Justice Department
team. Schuelke is a former prosecutor and veteran defense attorney
who oversaw a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into
influence-peddling allegations against former New York Sen. Alfonse
D'Amato in 1989.

Sullivan said the misconduct was too serious to be left to an
internal investigation by the Justice Department, which he said
dragged its feet before investigating. He criticized former
Attorney General Michael Mukasey for not responding to complaints:
"Shocking, but not surprising," Sullivan said.

He worried aloud about how often prosecutors withhold evidence,
from Guantanamo Bay terrorism cases to public corruption trials. He
called on Holder to retrain all prosecutors in the department.

The decision to open a criminal case raises the question of
whether the prosecutors, who include top officials in the
department's public corruption unit, can remain on the job while
under investigation. The investigation carries the threat of prison
time, fines and disbarment.

It also threatens to derail the investigation into other public
officials, including Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who has been under
scrutiny by the same prosecutors now being investigated. Young's
lawyer attended Tuesday's hearing but said nothing after it ended.

Subjects of the criminal probe are lead prosecutor Brenda
Morris, the department's No. 2 corruption official and an
instructor within the department; Public Integrity prosecutors
Nicholas Marsh and Edward Sullivan; Alaska federal prosecutors
Joseph Bottini and James Goeke; and William Welch, who did not
participate in the trial but who supervises the Public Integrity
section and has overseen every major public corruption case in
recent years.

Judge Sullivan repeatedly scolded prosecutors for their behavior
during trial. After the verdict, an FBI whistleblower accused the
team of misconduct and Sullivan held prosecutors in contempt for
ignoring a court order.

The prosecution team was replaced and, last week, the new team
acknowledged that key evidence was withheld. That included notes
from an interview with the government's star witness, contractor
Bill Allen.

On the witness stand, Allen said a mutual friend told him not to
expect payment for Stevens' home renovations because the senator
only wanted the bill to cover himself. It was damaging testimony
that made Stevens look like a scheming politician trying to conceal
his freebies.

But in the previously undisclosed meeting with prosecutors,
Allen had no recollection of such a discussion. And he valued the
renovation work at far less than what prosecutors alleged at the
trial.

"I was sick in my stomach," attorney Brendan Sullivan said
Tuesday, recalling seeing the new evidence for the first time.
"How could they do this? How could they abandon their
responsibilities? How could they take on a very decent man, Ted
Stevens, who happened to be a United States senator, and do this?"

Late Tuesday, Holder said he was "troubled by the findings ...
and the statements" by the judge. In a CBS News interview, Holder
defended the agency's internal investigation. "I think we are
fully capable of looking at ourselves, if that was necessary," he
said, adding that the department would cooperate with Schuelke's
inquiry.

The attorney general dismissed the suggestion that the
prosecutors might have been politically motivated and said until
there is a reason to decide otherwise, the prosecutors will remain
at the Justice Department.

Despite the prosecutorial misconduct, the trial revealed that
Stevens - regardless of Allen's discredited testimony - accepted a
massage chair, a stained-glass window and an expensive sculpture
but never disclosed them on Senate documents.

None of that mattered Tuesday as Stevens gave what amounted to
the election victory speech he never had a chance to give. Standing
at the courtroom lectern wearing a pin of the U.S. and Alaska flags
on his sweater, he recounted his career in government - from flying
planes in World War II to serving as U.S. attorney to his storied
career in the Senate.

He thanked his friends, his supporters and his wife. And he
vowed to push his friends in the Senate for tough new laws on
prosecutorial misconduct.

Then, with the prosecution team feeling the scrutiny that
Stevens felt for years, he smiled, posed for pictures with his
family outside the courthouse and said:

"I'm going to enjoy this wonderful day."


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