FORGET THE DO-OVER…. Given the prosecutorial misconduct, Attorney General Eric Holder did the right thing this week in dropping the federal case against former Sen. Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska. But talk of a new special election is a little silly.
Among those calling for a special election was Randy Ruedrich, the Republican Party chairman, who said in an e-mail message Thursday, “A special election will allow Alaskans to have a real, nonbiased, credible process where the most qualified person could win.”
On Wednesday, the Justice Department moved to drop all charges against Mr. Stevens, 85, citing what it called prosecutorial misconduct. He was convicted on seven felony counts of ethics violations just before he lost a bid for re-election in November. Judge Emmet G. Sullivan will determine whether to grant the department’s motion at a hearing scheduled for Tuesday in Washington.
Several hours after the Alaska Republican Party asked for a do-over election — and for Sen. Mark Begich’s (D) resignation — Gov. Sarah Palin (R) followed her party’s lead.
Alaska Democrats, not surprisingly, don’t find much merit in the idea. Begich explained that he began his campaign well before Stevens’ legal troubles, and was elected “because Alaskans were looking for a change and a senator as independent as Alaska.” The chairwoman of the Alaska Democratic Party added, “To imply that Alaskans didn’t know what they were voting on, is just plain wrong. Alaskans deserve to be treated with respect and their choice for senator honored. Even before all this came up, there was a strong feeling that it was time to move on and that Alaska needed new leadership.”
Even Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) of Alaska agreed that “turning back the clock” is “not an option.”
Nor should it be. Would Stevens have won re-election if prosecutors had been more responsible? I haven’t the foggiest idea. Maybe Stevens would have been convicted anyway. Maybe voters were sick of Stevens’ nonsense and multiple scandals. It’s impossible to say what might have happened with any certainty, but that doesn’t change the fact that there was a legitimate election and the sitting senator won more votes.
Several years ago, Gary Condit sought re-election, despite prosecutors’ belief that he might have been involved in Chandra Levy’s murder. Condit was defeated, though police later cleared him in the case. Does he get a do-over election? Not so much.
Look, there’s no doubt that the prosecutors in Stevens’ trial badly mishandled the case. But let’s also not forget that Holder intervened, not because of Stevens’ innocence, but because of the misconduct in Bush’s Justice Department. To hear the media and Alaska Republicans tell it, Stevens was pure as the driven snow and would have won yet another term were it not for being railroaded by bungling lawyers.
In reality, as Zachary Roth explained yesterday, “[N]o one disputes that Stevens accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of home renovations and gifts (remember that massage chair?) from a supporter who had a slew of business interests that Stevens was in a position to affect as a powerful federal lawmaker and appropriator. That’s what we call ‘corrupt.’”
Stevens gets to walk, and under the circumstances, that’s probably the right call. But this talk of a do-over election to preserve Stevens’ “honor” is without foundation in reality.