Public Integrity Section chief William Welch II has been taken off the case of a Jack Abramoff-related defendant — two months after lawyers for indicted ex-lobbyist Kevin Ring first complained about Welch’s continued invovlement in their case. But Welch remains supervisor of the troubled public corruption unit, according to a Department of Justice spokeswoman.
A June 15 government filing in the Ring case lists Ray Hulser as ”acting” chief of the Public Integrity Section. Read the filing here. Justice spokeswoman Laura Sweeney told Main Justice that Hulser’s acting status is for the Ring case “specifically.” She declined to comment further about personnel matters, other than to say both Welch and his deputy, Brenda Morris, remain chief and deputy chief of PIN.
Welch, Morris and other DOJ lawyers are under criminal investigation by a court for their handling of evidence in the case of ex-Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. A parallel Office of Professional Responsibility probe is also underway.
The section has been in turmoil since U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan threw out the charges against Stevens in April and ordered the criminal investigation of the prosecutors. But since then, it’s been unclear how DOJ is handling this sticky personnel situation. Two of the PIN lawyers — Nick Marsh and Edward Sullivan — were recently transfered to the department’s Office of International Affairs, an out-of-the-way spot where they won’t be asked to appear in court. See our story about the transfers here.
Then, The Washington Post published this story today suggesting Welch and Morris were removed from their supervisory roles at PIN. Specifically, the Post reported that Welch and Morris “have been moved into other roles following the transfer this month of two of their subordinates, who worked on lengthy investigations of Alaskan influence peddling, according to four sources.”
The likely explanation is that Welch and Morris have been relieved of day-to-day supervisory duties but not their titles, said Sidley Austin partner Thomas Green.
“This is not an uncommon solution to a situation like this. They are temporarily removing him from the supervisory chain of command because he’s been tainted by the Stevens case,” said Green, a former federal prosecutor who manages the firm’s white collar defense practice group. “Bill Welch’s title is still chief of the Public Integrity Section. Whether it’s going to remain that way or not, we all will have to wait and see.”
Ring is a former associate of Abramoff who faces trial in September on public corruption charges. We here at Main Justice have covered the Ring case closely — because it’s so bizarrely entwined with many of the key players in the Stevens debacle.
Welch, of course, headed PIN during the Abramoff probes as well as the massive Alaska public corruption investigation that snared Stevens. In April, Judge Sullivan dismissed the Stevens case and voided his conviction, then ordered a criminal investigation into Welch and other DOJ lawyers for their mishandling of evidence.
Here’s where it gets weird: The special investigator hired by Sullivan to investigate Welch is Washington lawyer Hank Schuelke. Schuelke is also a key witness for the case Welch helped build against Kevin Ring. Ring has alleged that Welch committed the same kind of Brady violations in his case as Schuelke is investigating him for in the Stevens debacle.
In April, Ring’s lawyers asked Judge Ellen Huvelle in Washington to remedy the situation. But Huvelle said she didn’t see a problem with the Schuelke-Welch situation. The judge did muse in open court that the DOJ should somehow “wall” Welch off from Ring’s case. But when we asked the DOJ how they planned to do this, the DOJ didn’t have any answers, other than to say Welch wouldn’t appear in court. Read our story here.
Then on June 8, Main Justice published this story describing a court filing in which Ring alleges that Welch improperly redacted information during discovery. From the transcript of the April hearing before Judge Huvelle, it seems apparent that Welch is alleged to have improperly redacted an FBI 302 witness interview summary with none other than the infamous Abramoff himself.
Mary Jacoby contributed to this report.