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Will Prosecutorial Misconduct Lead to Reversal of the Stevens Conviction?

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The trial on corruption charges of the Senate’s senior Republican, Ted Stevens, ended on October 27, and the jurors quickly returned a “guilty” verdict. But now glaring disclosures of misconduct by the prosecution team raise doubt about whether the conviction will stand. As noted previously, Judge Emmet Sullivan, suggesting that he did not consider the Public Integrity Section lawyers appearing in the case to be credible. He insisted that then-Attorney General Mukasey furnish him with a written explanation for the Department’s failure to provide whistleblower protections to the FBI agent who came forward with the prosecutorial misconduct allegations that have rocked the case.

Mukasey apparently departed without complying with the judge’s request. But Public Integrity Section chief William Welch sent the judge a detailed letter offering novel rationalizations for the prosecution’s false steps and seeking not to be held in contempt. Welch’s submission fails to comply with the specific demands the judge placed on prosecutors about disclosure of communications. Welch instead suggested that the judge was operating on the basis of a misunderstanding about the case and that he would need a further two weeks to comply if the judge persisted in his order. The Anchorage Daily News reports

In a letter to the judge dated Jan. 30 and made public Thursday, William M. Welch II, head of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, said he erred when he said in January that government employees cited in an FBI agent’s complaint alleging improprieties by government officials “want their story to be made public.” In fact, he wrote, not all of them gave their consent to having their names released Jan. 14 in a publicly filed copy of the eight-page complaint, though he didn’t identify which ones.

Stevens’s attorneys are seeking to have the conviction overturned on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct, a remedy which is rarely granted. In papers filed with the court, Stevens’s attorney states:

The government still does not get it. Over and over again, it has been caught red-handed making false representations to the Court and the defense.

This is the latest in a long series of scandals surrounding prosecutions by the Public Integrity Section, differing from others only in that the defendant in this case is a prominent Republican. A special prosecutor is probing allegations that the Bush White House improperly manipulated prosecutors for political purposes following the release of reports by two Congressional committees and the Justice Department’s own Inspector General that documented such manipulation in great detail. None of the allegations touched upon the Stevens case, however.

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