Public Integrity Section Chief William Welch and his deputy, Brenda Morris, will no longer participate in litigation over alleged government misconduct in the ex-Sen. Ted Stevens case, the Department of Justice said in a court-filing Monday.
The inevitable but bizarre turn in this increasingly muddied case came after U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan issued a contempt ruling against Welch, Morris and other DOJ lawyers last week. Morris was lead prosecutor in the high-profile criminal conviction last year of the Alaska Republican on bribery charges. But she and Welch have since become witnesses in Judge Sullivan’s attempts to get to the bottom of how the DOJ handled an FBI whistleblower’s complaint of prosecutorial misconduct.
A District of Columbia federal jury found Stevens guilty of failing to report renovations of his home paid for by an oil services company, VECO Corp., on his financial disclosure forms. Stevens, who had served in the Senate since 1968, narrowly lost his bid for a 7th term in November. But in December, FBI Agent Chad Joy filed a complaint with DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility alleging misconduct by the government. Stevens has asked the court to order a new trial or throw out his conviction.
Since then, Judge Sullivan has become increasingly furious with the prosecution for failing to give straight answers and produce documents relating to Agent Joy’s complaint. Joy accused his co-worker Mary Beth Kepner, the FBI’s lead investigator on the Stevens case, of an improper relationship with the government’s star witness, VECO executive Bill Allen. Joy also accused Public Integrity trial attorney Nicholas Marsh of withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense. Joy further said Marsh schemed to send a witness back to Alaska after he turned in a disappointing performance in a mock trial staged by the government. The witness, Robert Williams, had served as foreman on the renovation project for Stevens’ home.
“Nick Marsh advised he came up with a great plan to send Williams home because he was so ‘concerned’ about Williams’ health that it would allow prosecutors to send him back to Alaska, even though Williams was also under a defense subpoena,” Agent Joy said in his complaint. (Williams, however, has since died, which does make you wonder if Agent Joy wasn’t jumping at least a little too quickly to some conclusions.)
Marsh and another Public Integrity trial attorney, Edward Sullivan, have also been removed from the litigation over the misconduct allegations, as have Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Bottini and James Goeke in Anchorage. Patty Stemler, head of the Criminal Division’s Appellate Section, will continue to work on the government’s response to Stevens’ appeal, even though Judge Sullivan also cited her for contempt last week.
The Stevens prosecutors will be replaced by Paul O’Brien, chief of the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, David Jaffe, deputy chief of the Domestic Security Section, and William Stuckwisch, senior trial attorney in the Fraud Section.
The government also said it would finally produce court-ordered emails and other internal DOJ documents regarding whether Agent Joy had protected status as a whistleblower. Judge Sullivan in his contempt ruling and in other communications had voiced strong suspicion that Morris, Welch and other DOJ lawyers had tried to mislead him about Agent Joy’s status. The prosecutors pleaded incompetence. The dispute is convoluted; you can read our previous post about it here.