Stevens walks

STEVENS WALKS…. Even before former Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska was convicted last year, there were two opposing forces pulling in opposite directions. The first was the evidence that suggested Stevens was very, very guilty. The second was the unfortunate truth that federal prosecutors had badly mishandled the case.

This morning, Attorney General Eric Holder made an effort to set things right.

The Justice Department moved on Wednesday morning to drop all charges against former Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who narrowly lost his seat last year shortly after being convicted on seven felony counts of ethics violations.

In a stunning development, Justice Department lawyers told a federal court that they had discovered a new instance of prosecutorial misconduct in the case and asked that the convictions be voided. There would be no new trial in the case.

Mr. Stevens, who is 85, had been the longest serving Republican in the history of the Senate. He had been charged with lying on Senate disclosure forms by concealing an estimated $250,000 worth of goods and services he received, mostly to renovate a chalet he owned in Alaska. Prosecutors said he received most of the goods and services from Bill Allen, a longtime friend who had made a fortune by providing services to Alaska’s booming oil industry.

But in their filing on Wednesday, government lawyers said that trial prosecutors had concealed from Mr. Stevens’s defense lawyers the notes from an interview with Mr. Allen that raised significant doubts about the charges. Among other things, Mr. Allen asserted in the interview that the work on the Stevens home was worth only about $80,000, they said.

Holder said in a statement, “I have concluded that certain information should have been provided to the defense for use at trial.” He added that it was “in the interests of justice” to dismiss the indictment and forgo any new trial.

TPM followed the ins and outs of Stevens’ case as closely as anyone, and Josh Marshall concluded today that this is probably the appropriate resolution of the controversy.

Stevens is 85 years old. He was tried and convicted. He lost his senate seat and ended his 40+ career in disgrace. Whatever the prosecutors did wrong … that doesn’t erase the fact that Stevens got a freebie home renovation from a wealthy contributor whose interests Stevens repeatedly and habitually service in Washington.

In this case, though, the prosecutorial misconduct appears to be of a non-trivial sort. So given his age, the disgrace he’s already suffered and the fact that future prosecution may be fatally undermined by the earlier prosecutorial wrongdoing, setting this whole effort aside makes sense.

That sounds about right to me. To combat prosecutorial misconduct, leaders like Holder have to step up and make decisions like this one, Stevens’ corruption notwithstanding.

Just for good measure, though, let’s pause to ponder whether, say, Alberto Gonzales would have gone to these lengths to clear a Democratic senator convicted on corruption charges. It seems rather unlikely, doesn’t it?

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