It was 10 years ago this month that Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens walked out of court smiling — and vindicated: The corruption charges were thrown out.
Rather than Sen. Stevens being the one who was corrupt, it was the Justice Department that was. Prosecutors were found to be so determined to get a conviction that they’d even withhold evidence that would have — and should have — ended their investigation. Even U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder could not justify the disgrace that the case had become. Holder threw in the towel:
“After careful review, I have concluded that certain information should have been provided to the defense for use at trial,” Holder wrote on April 1, 2009, in a carefully worded statement. He had no choice.
Then, on April 7, 2009, United States District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan blasted the prosecution, “In nearly 25 years on the bench, I’ve never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I’ve seen in this case.”
He threw out the conviction: “There was never a judgment of conviction in this case. The jury’s verdict is being set aside and has no legal effect.”
Judge Sullivan ripped the prosecution in a 14-minute speech that accused them of withholding evidence that would have exonerated Stevens, who had been charged with concealing that he had not paid full value for renovations to his Girdwood cabin. Stevens and his wife had, in fact, paid $160,000 for renovations that were later independently appraised at less than $125,000.
Judge Sullivan went further. He appointed Henry F. Schuelke III, a Washington attorney, to investigate six Justice Department prosecutors, the chief of the Public Integrity Section, and his deputy chief. Sullivan wanted to know if the attack dogs of the Justice Department should face criminal charges.
“How does the court have confidence that the public integrity section has public integrity?” Judge Sullivan asked. [t]he government’s ill-gotten verdict in the case not only cost that public official his bid for re-election, the results of that election tipped the balance of power in the United States Senate.”