Demand justice in Stevens case
Alaska-based federal prosecutors made political history in the worst way as their misconduct almost certainly resulted in the conviction and subsequent electoral defeat of long-term Sen. Ted Stevens.
The reason that prosecutors acted as they did, may never be established, however, if the Justice Department has its way.
Stevens' conviction by a federal jury came only eight days before the 2008 election. He was then defeated by a Democrat, ending 50 years in the Senate.
And his defeat helped assure continuing Democratic control of the Senate.
His conviction was vacated early the following year when a federal judge determined that prosecutors had been grossly negligent. But his exoneration came too late to save his political career.
Stevens died in a plane crash in August 2010.
Now, more than three years after dismissing the charges against Stevens, the same judge has released results of an investigation by a special prosecutor. It finds that the prosecutors in question systematically hid "significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated Senator Stevens' defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government's key witness."
There is no suggestion here that the Justice Department itself was at fault. Moreover, the prosecution took place under a Republican attorney general. But the reported suppression of evidence by prosecutors that would have proved Stevens' innocence of the corruption charges, and the timing of the trial, together worked to end Stevens' political career.
Simple incompetence does not appear to be a plausible excuse for their actions.
The Justice Department is conducting its own investigation of the lawyers involved, one who committed suicide in 2010 and two who worked in Alaska to develop the case against Stevens.
But The Washington Post reports that the surviving lawyers are not likely to face criminal charges. According to the Post, that is because the presiding judge never issued a "clear and unambiguous order" telling the lawyers they had to turn over evidence favorable to Sen. Stevens.
That sounds like an effort to shove this mess under the rug. Every prosecutor knows that he or she has a responsibility to turn over to the defense any evidence that might prove a defendant is not guilty. This is the well-known Brady Doctrine, named after a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland, and it does not require special instructions from a judge to become binding on the prosecution.
The only way to clear up this appalling abuse of prosecutorial power is to bring the perpetrators to trial and establish in court why they acted as they did.