The special prosecutor investigating the Justice Department lawyers involved in the government’s case against former Sen. Ted Stevens (R- Alaska) has completed interviews, signaling that the yearlong probe is nearing its conclusion, said two people familiar with the matter.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department’s ethics unit is close to finishing a separate investigation of the six lawyers, which will culminate in a report on whether their failure to turn over critical evidence to Stevens’ defense team amounted to professional misconduct, the people said.
Special prosecutor Henry Schuelke III, whose investigation began in April 2009, is expected to make his recommendation first. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who presided over the Stevens trial, tapped Schuelke to determine whether department lawyers sought to conceal the evidence in violation of criminal contempt statutes or whether they withheld it by mistake.
Stevens was convicted of omitting gifts on his Senate financial disclosure forms in October 2008, but Attorney General Eric Holder dropped the case amid cries of foul by Stevens’ defense lawyers and after an internal review revealed irregularities in the way prosecutors shared documents and witness statements.
Schuelke’s investigation has been complex, reaching back years before Stevens was indicted and drawing from thousands of documents. The people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigations are ongoing, said Schuelke is now evaluating the evidence he’s collected in the past year. It’s unclear when he will make his determination.
Schuelke and investigators in the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility conducted separate interviews with the lawyers, with some sessions lasting 16 hours, but they are sharing information because of the overlap in their investigations, the people said.
Five of the lawyers involved in the Stevens prosecution, including two former supervisors in the department’s prestigious Public Integrity Section, have shifted jobs since the case was thrown out. William Welch II, who was the section chief, is now based in the Springfield branch of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts. Brenda Morris, who was the section’s principal deputy chief, moved to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta for personal reasons.
Both Welch and Morris are employees of the Criminal Division — they are not Assistant U.S. Attorneys — though it’s unclear whether they continue to handle public corruption work. Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined to comment on personnel matters.
Two other members of the trial team, Nicholas Marsh and Edward Sullivan, were reassigned from the public integrity unit to the Office of International Affairs. James Goeke, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, transferred from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska to the Yakima branch of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington. Alaska-based Assistant U.S. attorney Joseph Bottini has continued in his position.
The Stevens case prompted a series of reforms at the department, including a new training regime for prosecutors and the creation of a new position with oversight of department discovery practices.