Ted Stevens Conviction Voided

Attorney General Eric Holder has dropped the case against Ted Stevens, NPR’s Nina Totenberg reports.

A jury convicted Stevens last fall of seven counts of lying on his Senate disclosure form in order to conceal $250,000 in gifts from an oil industry executive and other friends. Stevens was the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, however, he lost his bid for an eighth full term in office just days after he was convicted. Since then, charges of prosecutorial misconduct have delayed his sentencing and prompted defense motions for a new trial.

According to Justice Department officials, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has decided to drop the case against Stevens rather than continue to defend the conviction in the face of persistent problems stemming from the actions of prosecutors.

The judge in the Stevens case has repeatedly delayed sentencing and criticized trial prosecutors for what he’s called prosecutorial misconduct. At one point, prosecutors were held in contempt. Things got so bad that the Justice Department finally replaced the trial team, including top-ranking officials in the office of public integrity. That’s the department’s section charged with prosecuting public corruption cases.

With more ugly hearings expected, Holder is said to have decided late Tuesday to pull the plug. Stevens’ lawyers are expected to be informed Wednesday morning that the department will dismiss the indictment against the former senator.

I’m pretty sure that, unlike Google’s Gmail Autopilot and Guardian’s going Twitter-only [and Jim Henley’s merger with Hot Air], this is not an April Fool’s Day hoax.

Unfortunately, while I have no reasonable doubt that Stevens was guilty of the crimes with which he was charged, I also believe Holder is doing the right thing here.  It’s well past time to reign in federal prosecutors who, in high profile cases, seem willing to use any means necessary to get their man.

Whether we’re talking Iran-Contra, Whitewater, Monicagate, Martha Stewart, Lewis Libby, William Jefferson, Ted Stevens, or Rod Blagojevich, a team of really smart lawyers armed with extreme confidence that they’ve got a bad guy in their sites, unlimited resources, and operating under the white hot glare of the media spotlight, will figure out how to bring charges. In most, if not all, of those cases, there actually is/was underlying wrongdoing on the part of the accused. But making charges stick is often tricky.

Because we have an adversarial system, lawyers on both sides treat the case as a game, stretching the spirit if not the letter of the law as necessary.  Prosecutors, acting as agents of the state, are supposed to be more cognizant of justice — defense attorneys are supposed to get their guy off even if they’re sure he’s guilty, whereas prosecutors are expected to stop prosecuting if they find they’ve got the wrong guy — but it often doesn’t work out that way.

So, good for Eric Holder for making the hard, right call here.  Let’s hope it sends the right message.

UPDATE: And, yes, as Radley Balko points out, prosecutorial excess is by no means reserved for cases involving the rich and famous.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    And what message is that, James?

    That so long as you’re not in the way of a Democrat agenda, Justice isn’t really the issue?

    And seemingly, that’s what went down here.

    Consider the comparative silence by the Democrats and the press (yes, I repeat myself) once Stevens was out of office, despite there still being a legal question of his guilt or innocence.

    That series of events raised the question of just why it is they went after Stevens in the first place, and Holder’s actions, particularly in light of his justice dept’s inaction on such cases as William Jefferson, Nancy Pelosi (she of Starkist Tuna) Charlie Rangel, Chris Dodd, Charles Schumer and Barney Frank, gives us the answer. We’re dealing with political motivation.

    And political motivation is likley what caused them to drop the case as well.

    Don’t misunderstand me; I agree fully that reining in procecutors who overstep is worthy. (See Michael Nifong)

    But other than dropping the case, what is it that you suppose will happen to them for their part in this? They’ll quietly be given raises or more lucerative positions for aiding the party. After all, they helped Dems gain control of the Senate, assuming Franken.

    Seems to me that the case got dropped so as to get the over zealous nature of the proceutors out of the public eye as quickly and quietly as possible. The Democrats are having enough PR problems just now, and this stuff going center court likely wouldn’t help them any.

  2. Raoul says:

    I thought Stevens would have been acquitted if he had not taken the stand- nevertheless- Holder made the right decision and I totally agree that the Feds are overzealous (you can add the Miss. governor to the list). As to the cases you list, I think you have to take them individually- my pov would be that Jefferson, Libby and now Murtha had/have some issues that need to be dealt with. Iran-Contra is way too complicated to dismiss in a single sentence so I will refrain on commenting on it. In Puerto Rico, a jury nullified federal charges against the former governor on Steven’s like charges. Bithead: you need your morning coffee stronger- not everything is a conspiracy. Perhaps if W’s DOJ was run by competent people this would have never happened. From what I read in the case there seems to be some prosecutorial misconduct on at least one individual who lied to the judge.

  3. Bithead says:

    Bithead: you need your morning coffee stronger- not everything is a conspiracy. Perhaps if W’s DOJ was run by competent people this would have never happened. From what I read in the case there seems to be some prosecutorial misconduct on at least one individual who lied to the judge.

    Of course there was. But the issue of their being competent or not seems to me to ride wholely on the question of what they were being asked to do. The situation I’ve described, Raoul, has occurred far too often, and there’s far too much in the way of indicators to dismiss what I’m saying.

    And perhaps you misunderstand how people get to be involved in the middle levels of the Justice Dept, anyway? Do you really think that the procecutors in that case were appointed by Bush, or by Obama for that matter, even indicrectly?

  4. glasnost says:

    Bithead – you’re out of your mind.

    The political angle to this case is to prosecute Ted Stevens until that last dog dies and mount a massive leak campaign about how “right-wing movement ideologue” judges are letting him off the hook in a corrupt process. That’s how the Bush Administration played the game.

    There’s no rational political advantage to the Democratic Party for letting Stevens get away with his bribery.

    There’s just, apparently, either an ethically or practically-based decision by Holder that, as Joyner said, the use of dirty tricks by prosecutors to get convictions have gone to far.

    Get back to me when Democrat US attorneys get fired in mid-term after engaging in fights with David Axelrod about refusing to prosecute fake vote fraud complaints that benefit Democrats. Kay?

  5. Raoul says:

    BB: I do not know the inner workings of DOJ- perhaps one can elucidate. I believe political prosecutions need top level approval. Absence of facts I will simply not go around throwing aspersions.

  6. Michael says:

    I’m still not sure why they can’t make charges stick on Jefferson. I mean, they found the money in his freezer! Was there really something else they needed in his congressional office to make their case?

    Consider the comparative silence by the Democrats and the press (yes, I repeat myself) once Stevens was out of office

    The press maybe, but lefty blogs followed the Stevens case until his conviction.

    That series of events raised the question of just why it is they went after Stevens in the first place

    By “they” I assume you mean the Bush DOJ. I believe they went after him because he was, to use the legal definition, “guilty as sin”.

    And political motivation is likley what caused them to drop the case as well.

    Politics certainly made it easier. This wasn’t Holder’s conviction, so there’s no embarrassment to him in dropping it. However, it seems this may be more a matter of Holder’s pride. He started at Justice in the very division that screwed up the prosecution of Stevens.

    But other than dropping the case, what is it that you suppose will happen to them for their part in this? They’ll quietly be given raises or more lucerative positions for aiding the party.

    Again, since this seems a matter of pride for Holder, I don’t expect them to get anything positive out of this. I’ll consider them lucky if they keep their current positions.

  7. Bithead says:

    The political angle to this case is to prosecute Ted Stevens until that last dog dies and mount a massive leak campaign about how “right-wing movement ideologue” judges are letting him off the hook in a corrupt process. That’s how the Bush Administration played the game.

    Laughable. And I’m the one who is supposedly seeing the black helecopters? Yeah, right.

    I’m still not sure why they can’t make charges stick on Jefferson.

    It comes down to their wanting to, or not. They don’t.

    The press maybe, but lefty blogs followed the Stevens case until his conviction.

    Thats’ right enough. Then again, they’re consistant, at least that far. They were out for justice. What were the rest out for? Well, what’s the obvious answer, here, hmmm?

    By “they” I assume you mean the Bush DOJ

    As with Raoul, you seem under the misguided notion that the upper levels of the Bush DOJ had anything to do with this.

    Politics certainly made it easier. This wasn’t Holder’s conviction, so there’s no embarrassment to him in dropping it. However, it seems this may be more a matter of Holder’s pride. He started at Justice in the very division that screwed up the prosecution of Stevens.

    As with Obama coming from the sewer that is Chicago politics, this doesn’t strike me as much of a reccomendation.

    Again, since this seems a matter of pride for Holder, I don’t expect them to get anything positive out of this. I’ll consider them lucky if they keep their current positions

    I’ll gurantee you you’ll never see anything bad happen to these people.

  8. Michael says:

    It comes down to their wanting to, or not. They don’t.

    They wanted it enough to raid his Congressional office and bring up all kinds of Constitutional questions, but weren’t interested in making the charges stick? Your logic doesn’t follow, Bithead.

    What were the rest out for? Well, what’s the obvious answer, here, hmmm?

    Yes, the obvious answer is that the Press stopped caring about a story that had no new news. Just like they stop caring about missing white girls in Aruba when nothing come up. They only reason they’re still talking about Octo-mom is because she keeps coming up with new crap for them to talk about. The big conspiracy is that the Press doesn’t actually care and gets bored easily. Shocking, I know.

    As with Raoul, you seem under the misguided notion that the upper levels of the Bush DOJ had anything to do with this.

    Please tell me why this is a misguided notion. Common sense tells me that the prosecution of a sitting US Senator goes pretty high up the chain of command. Show me evidence that this isn’t the case.

    I’ll gurantee you you’ll never see anything bad happen to these people.

    Easy to say, when it costs you nothing if you’re wrong.

  9. Anderson says:

    Can anyone translate Bitsy into English for me?

    Bush’s corrupt DOJ prosecuted Stevens so that the Democrats could take control of the Senate — is that the gist of it?

  10. JT says:

    Personally, I think if Stevens goes down, lots of others will be implicated. And that’s probably why Holders isn’t pursuing this.

  11. Dantheman says:

    Anderson,

    “Can anyone translate Bitsy into English for me?”

    It helps to realize that bithead’s moniker is well chosen — his head can only hold one bit of info, and its default setting is “Democrats = EVUL!”.

    “Bush’s corrupt DOJ prosecuted Stevens so that the Democrats could take control of the Senate — is that the gist of it?”

    More like the out-of-control career prosecutors who must be Democrats (because all bad things can only be done by Democrats) within the DOJ prosecuted a sitting US Senator against the political wishes of the upper echelon of the amazingly politicized upstandingly moral Bush DOJ, and did such a corrupt job of it that the Obama Administration, which bithead considers to be working on numerous plots to subvert our precious bodily fluids nation, felt compelled to release Stevens rather than continue to fight to preserve a conviction which would be of considerable propaganda value. It doesn’t make more sense my way, but…

  12. sam says:

    Before I clicked on the comments link, I said to myself “Let me see if I can guess what Bithead’s paranoid contribution to the comments will be?”–I wasn’t disappointed.

  13. Floyd says:

    Mission accomplished! Now back to Minnesota.
    There …..translated.

  14. anjin-san says:

    Look, don’t blame bit because he is the only one who has figured out the truth. The Stevens case is the work of the fascist Roosevelt, pulling the strings from the other side. Jimmy Carter is also somehow involved.

  15. PD Shaw says:

    Why is this a good call? I think there might be a couple of important reasons:

    1. Stevens is out of office. He won’t be able to violate the public trust anymore.

    2. Stevens is 86 years old. Prosecutors are not going to be excited about jail time for people this old. For one thing it poses potential high incarceration costs for the prison system.

    If you think that Stevens was innocent, then number 1 should bother you because Stevens was punished without prosecutors making their entire case.

  16. Anderson says:

    If you think that Stevens was innocent, then number 1 should bother you because Stevens was punished without prosecutors making their entire case.

    I take your point seriously, but at least in the case of Stevens, I don’t think anyone’s argued seriously that he *wasn’t* corrupt. So the prosecution may’ve just forced Alaskans to think about this. He didn’t lose by an overwhelming margin, IIRC.

  17. Floyd says:

    “”I don’t think anyone’s argued seriously that he *wasn’t* corrupt.””

    “””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

    He was,after-all,a Senator.
    So the real question remains why prosecute him in the first place?

    It certainly looks like the same reason they went after Palin.

  18. Grewgills says:

    That so long as you’re not in the way of a Democrat agenda, Justice isn’t really the issue?

    And seemingly, that’s what went down here…

    and

    So the real question remains why prosecute him in the first place?

    It certainly looks like the same reason they went after Palin.

    April Fools?

  19. Michael says:

    April Fools?

    No, they’re like this year-round.

  20. Bithead says:

    They wanted it enough to raid his Congressional office and bring up all kinds of Constitutional questions, but weren’t interested in making the charges stick? Your logic doesn’t follow, Bithead.

    They weren’t interested in convictions. They were interested in getting Ted Stevens out of office to facilitate the takeover of the senate. That accomplished, the charges go away, like magic.

  21. Bithead says:

    Ya know, sam, after listening to you and yours and your constant complaints about ‘it’s all Bush’s fault’… well, let’s just say your calling me a paranoid loses some of it’s impact.

    So the prosecution may’ve just forced Alaskans to think about this. He didn’t lose by an overwhelming margin, IIRC.

    True. But what of William Jefferson, then? When I ask is he going to trial?

    Oh, yeah. Forgot, huh?

  22. Michael says:

    They weren’t interested in convictions. They were interested in getting Ted Stevens out of office to facilitate the takeover of the senate.

    So, you’re telling me that the FBI raided William Jefferson’s congressional office because they wanted Ted Stevens our of the senate?

    Do you even think about this stuff before you click “Post”?

  23. sam says:

    They weren’t interested in convictions. They were interested in getting Ted Stevens out of office to facilitate the takeover of the senate. That accomplished, the charges go away, like magic.

    D’ya ever wonder what it must be like to inhabit Bit’s world — liberal plots all around you; the ghost of Joe Stalin under your bed; to know with metaphysical certainty that of all the human beings on this earth, God has vouchsafed to you and you alone The Truth…. Contemplating the burden of one man having to bear all that is almost enough to make one weep. Almost.

  24. Floyd says:

    It must be noted that Democrat Toadies can only respond with grade school epithets…
    Nah-nah-na Nah-na, poopy face!

  25. Michael says:

    I wonder what kind of grade school Floyd went to where works like “metaphysical” and “vouchsafed” were commonly used in taunting peers, let alone references to Joe Stalin.

  26. Floyd says:

    Michael;
    So you thought I was referring to Sam, and YOU think he is a Democrat toady? Well…

    Of course Michael, your no “April Fool”…
    Your like this all year-round!

    BTW, It was only public schools, but some of us used those sorts of terms, and then were frustrated by having to explain them to the targets of our taunting…. The Democrat’s kids![lol] [Hardly “peers” though] grinz

  27. Dantheman says:

    Floyd,

    “It must be noted that Democrat Toadies can only respond with grade school epithets…”

    Of course, you need to consider the person being responded to. When one is responding to bithead, for whom facts and logic exist solely to get dismissed out of hand if they are inconvenient to his world view, it becomes necessary to sink to his level.

  28. Michael says:

    Wow Floyd, way to take my attempts at humor and ruin them. Kill-joy.

  29. Floyd says:

    Yeah, I know what you mean! 😉 😉 [eyes rolling]

  30. Bithead says:

    Please tell me why this is a misguided notion. Common sense tells me that the prosecution of a sitting US Senator goes pretty high up the chain of command. Show me evidence that this isn’t the case.

    For someone who tosses about the phrase ‘common sense’ you seem to be lacking of it. Think now; Can you imagine the reaction of the press and the left (there’s that echo again) had Bush intervened in the slightest, to halt the investigation/prosecution started by someone at mid level in the DOJ?

    Please.

  31. Michael says:

    For someone who tosses about the phrase ‘common sense’ you seem to be lacking of it.

    My definition of “common sense” doesn’t involve the creation of elaborate conspiracy theories like:

    Can you imagine the reaction of the press and the left (there’s that echo again) had Bush intervened in the slightest, to halt the investigation/prosecution started by someone at mid level in the DOJ?

    I suppose you could be right about the existence of magical evil liberal ponies that control shadow world-governments from their secret moon bases. I just don’t think you are.

  32. Dantheman says:

    “Can you imagine the reaction of the press and the left (there’s that echo again) had Bush intervened in the slightest, to halt the investigation/prosecution started by someone at mid level in the DOJ? ”

    Sorry to muddy bithead’s fantasies by actually raising facts, but we don’t have to imagine — we already know that there wouldn’t be a press reaction. The so-called liberal media was initially silent about the firing of the US Attorneys by the Bush Administration for not following high-level orders on who to prosecute. It was only when the story was pushed by liberal bloggers and led to Congressional hearings that this matter was even covered.

  33. Bithead says:

    Dantheman,far from crippling my argument you further my point, by adding that context.

    The Stevens thing started AFTER all the attention was focused on the DOJ firings. So again, I ask…in that intensified scrutiny, can you imagine the reaction of the press and the left (there’s that echo again) had Bush intervened in the slightest, to halt the investigation/ prosecution started by someone at mid level in the DOJ?

  34. Dantheman says:

    “(there’s that echo again)”

    Echoes are to be expected when loud noises emanate from large hollow spaces, but we’ve gotten used to hearing them when you speak.

    “in that intensified scrutiny, can you imagine the reaction of the press and the left … had Bush intervened in the slightest, to halt the investigation/ prosecution started by someone at mid level in the DOJ?”

    Bithead logic at its finest. There was no initial press outcry last time, which only proves that there will be one this time.

  35. anjin-san says:

    Oh, yeah. Forgot, huh?

    No, we remember that you remain, after all these year, obsessed with Clinton. He was smart, successful, and women like him. No wonder you hate the guy.

    Most of us just have your inability to let go of this filed away under "pathetic"..

  36. Dantheman says:

    anjin,

    I think bithead was not referring to former President Clinton, but to former Congressman Jefferson, best known for the FBI finding tens of thousands of dollars in his freezer in 2005, giving new meaning to the term "cold cash". I too wonder why he has not been charged to date, although since the Bush Administration was able to do so for over 3 years, I am not ready to call this a conspiracy by the Obama Administration.

    On the other hand, I await with bated breath bithead's explanation of why the Holder DOJ started with Stevens as an example of prosecutorial misconduct, instead of prominent Democrats such as Don Siegelman or Cyril Wecht.

  37. anjin-san says:

    Dantheman,

    By the light of day, I see you are right about that. (though I think my point about bits clinton obsession remains valid). It does seem odd that Jefferson has not been prosecuted, but then the Bush DOJ had ample opportunity to go after him. And yes, bits outrage is highly selective. What else is new?

  38. Bithead says:

    I think bithead was not referring to former President Clinton, but to former Congressman Jefferson, best known for the FBI finding tens of thousands of dollars in his freezer in 2005, giving new meaning to the term “cold cash”. I too wonder why he has not been charged to date, although since the Bush Administration was able to do so for over 3 years, I am not ready to call this a conspiracy by the Obama Administration.

    I suggest that would be because you operate under the misguided notion that when the administration changes from one party to another, that the mid to low level operates in the DOJ change loyalties.

    By the light of day, I see you are right about that. (though I think my point about bits clinton obsession remains valid)

    So, Anjin is proven wrong but still thinks he’s right. Sorta like ‘fake but accurate’… where the vibes and the outcome of the thing, not the facts, are paramount.

    (Yawn) Nothing new here. Go on about your lives, citizens.