‘Innocence’ is relative

‘INNOCENCE’ IS RELATIVE…. There are two key angles to keep in mind when it comes to former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens’ (R) recent legal developments. One, the prosecutorial misconduct in Stevens’ trial was egregious and unacceptable, and the Justice Department was right to dismiss the charges. Two, the prosecutors’ wrongdoing doesn’t change the fact that Stevens still appears to be very, very guilty.

There’s been a bizarre push of late — in Republican circles and among political reporters — that Stevens has somehow been exonerated. In one particularly egregious example, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews concluded, “[T]he charges should never have been brought, there should never have been a prosecution.”

That’s nonsense. To its credit, the New York Times does a nice job today pushing back against the notion that Stevens should suddenly be seen as pure as the driven Alaskan snow.

When a federal trial judge tossed out the ethics conviction of former Senator Ted Stevens last week, his lawyers promulgated the story of an innocent man victimized by unscrupulous prosecutors.

But the five-week trial of Mr. Stevens offered a different version of him, and only a discrete part of that was directly affected by the discovery of repeated instances of prosecutorial misconduct.

The disclosures that prosecutors had withheld information from the defense did little to erase much of the evidence that Mr. Stevens, who had been a powerful and admired political figure in Alaska, regularly and willingly accepted valuable gifts from friends and favor-seekers that he did not report.

Stevens chief lawyer said his client “is innocent of the charges as if they had never been brought.”

But there’s more to it than that, and the available evidence points to clear wrongdoing. Indeed, the NYT spoke to two of the jurors involved with Stevens’ trial, and both agreed that the prosecutors’ misconduct did not, in their view, point to Stevens’ innocence.

In fact, two jurors have said that the dismissal of the case because of the prosecutors’ actions did not make Mr. Stevens innocent in their view. As one put it, “The only thing this proves is that the prosecution messed everything up.”

The irony is, if the prosecutors had stuck to the rules and played it straight, they probably would have won their conviction anyway.

Zachary Roth noted the other day a series of media reports “painting an overall portrait of Stevens as an innocent, unfairly victimized by an overzealous government.” That’s simply not what happened. Kudos to the Times for pushing back against the misleading conventional wisdom.

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