A former associate of imprisoned ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff said in a recent court filing that Public Integrity Section chief William Welch redacted exculpatory information from documents given to his defense during the discovery process.
The motion by lawyers for former lobbyist Kevin Ring, who is slated to stand trial in September on public corruption charges before U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle in Washington, raised the question of whether Brady violations by Public Integrity are “serial in nature.”
While it isn’t clear from Ring’s May 29 filing what exculpatory evidence Welch is alleged to have redacted, clues emerged in a hearing before Judge Huvelle in April. FBI interviews with Abramoff that were provided to the defense were “fairly heavily redacted” by Welch, defense attorney Andrew Wise of Miller & Chevalier said.
Michael Ferrara, a lawyer in Public Integrity, confirmed during the court hearing that Welch, his supervisor, had personally redacted the Abramoff 302s, as the FBI interview summaries are known. “The defense is correct. Mr. Welch did that,” Ferrara said.
The little-noticed filing by Ring underscores a big challenge for Public Integrity, a unit that’s basically been in melt-down since U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in April ordered a criminal investigation into whether Welch and other DOJ lawyers intentionally withheld exculpatory information from the defense of then-Sen. Ted Stevens last year.
A DOJ review team found that government lawyers failed to hand over notes from an interview with their star witness that contradicted the witness’s sworn testimony at trial. At the request of Attorney General Eric Holder, Sullivan threw out the conviction and dismissed charges against Stevens for allegedly failing to disclose a gift in the form of home renovation services from a political supporter.
Then last week, the Justice Department quietly transferred two lawyers who’d worked on the Stevens case out of the Public Integrity Section, The Washington Post reported. The lawyers were Nick Marsh and Edward Sullivan. But there’s been no apparent action against Welch, prompting “grumbling” among criminal division and other DOJ lawyers that lower-level line-attorneys are being made to take the fall, the Post reported. Indeed, the DOJ continues to issue news releases like this one and this one noting that Welch is head of the Public Integrity unit — not exactly tail-between-the-legs behavior.
(Welch, by the way, had been angling to be named the U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts – aspirations that were obviously dashed by the Stevens debacle.)
The move to transfer Marsh and Sullivan came after the DOJ asked an appeals court to release from prison two former Alaska state lawmakers who’d been convicted in the department’s long-running public corruption probe in Alaska — the same investigation that snared Stevens. The department said it had uncovered instances of possible Brady violations just as it had found in the Stevens case.
Moreover, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman ordered in December 2008 that the government turn over more information from FBI interviews with Abramoff to David Safavian, a former chief of staff in the General Services Administration who was also charged in connected with the lobbying scandal.
The judge said a book about the Abramoff affair contained information that arguably should have been turned over to Safavian for use in his 2006 trial because it was “favorable or potentially favorable evidence.” The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned Safavian’s original conviction and ordered a new trial. Safavian was convicted on retrial. .