April 1, 2009
Anna Christopher, NPR
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT TO DROP ALL CHARGES AGAINST
FORMER SENATOR TED STEVENS
NINA TOTENBERG EXCLUSIVELY REPORTING ON “MORNING EDITION” THAT STEVENS’ LAWYERS TO BE INFORMED OF DECISION TODAY
COMPLETE REPORT BELOW AND AT www.NPR.org
The complete report is airing this morning on NPR News’ Morning Edition and will be available at www.NPR.org; for local stations and broadcast times, visit www.NPR.org/stations Text of the complete story is below.
Totenberg reports that Holder is said to have made his decision because of Stevens’ age, because Stevens’ lost his re-election bid, and because, according to Justice Department officials, Holder wanted to send a message to prosecutors throughout the department that actions he regards as misconduct will not be tolerated.
Totenberg reports that the judge in the Stevens case has repeatedly delayed sentencing and criticized trial prosecutors for what he's called prosecutorial misconduct, at one point even holding prosecutors in contempt. The Justice Department finally replaced the whole trial team, including top ranking officials in the Office of Public Integrity, the Justice Department section charged with prosecuting public corruption cases.
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NPR News’ Morning Edition
April 1, 2009
By Nina Totenberg
*All excerpts must be credited to NPR News.
NPR has learned that the Justice Department will drop all charges against former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens. Last fall, a jury convicted Stevens of seven counts of lying on his Senate disclosure form in order to conceal a quarter of a million dollars in gifts from an oil industry executive and other friends. Stevens, then the longest serving Republican in the U.S. Senate, was defeated in his bid for an eighth term in office just days after he was convicted. But charges of prosecutorial misconduct since then have delayed his sentencing and prompted defense motions for a new trial. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg has this exclusive report.
According to Justice Department officials, 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 even holding prosecutors in contempt. Things got so bad that the Justice Department finally replaced the whole trial team, including top ranking officials in the Office of Public Integrity, the Justice Department section charged with prosecuting public corruption cases.
With no end in sight, and more ugly hearings expected, Attorney General Holder decided late yesterday to pull the plug. Stevens’ lawyers are expected to be informed this morning that the department will dismiss the indictment against the former senator.
Holder is said to have made his decision because of Stevens age, he's 84; because Stevens is no longer in the Senate, having lost his re-election bid a week after his conviction; and perhaps most importantly, according to Justice Department officials, Holder wanted to send a message to prosecutors throughout the department, that actions he regards as misconduct will not be tolerated.
Holder began his career in the Public Integrity section of the Justice Department and according to sources, he was horrified by the failure of prosecutors to turnover all relevant materials to the defense. The attorney general also knows the trial judge, Emmett Sullivan, well. The two men served together as superior court judges before each was promoted to higher office. Holder respects Sullivan and has reportedly watched with growing alarm as Sullivan has repeatedly scolded and scalded prosecutors for failing to follow his judicial orders to fully inform defense lawyers about everything from potentially favorable evidence to the travel plans of witnesses.
At the trial, prosecutorial missteps led to the judge instructing the jury to disregard some evidence.
After the trial, the Stevens sentencing was repeatedly delayed. Indeed, by March, the sentencing was playing a back seat to the charges of prosecutorial misconduct, as a whistleblowing FBI agent made complaints about improper conduct by a fellow agent and prosecutors. With a hearing scheduled in two weeks to explore these charges further in open court, attorney general holder decided to review the case himself.
Late yesterday, according to Justice Department sources, Holder decided it was time to put the case out of its misery, and to put an end to the prosecution. Justice department officials say they will withdraw the department's opposition to the defense motion for a new trial and will instead dismiss the indictment. That, in effect, voids the Stevens conviction.