William Welch II, the former head of the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section who was nominally in charge of the ill-fated prosecution of Sen. Ted Stevens, has told associates he is leaving the DOJ, according to a report from National Public Radio.
His departure was confirmed today by a notice of his withdrawal in the prosecution of former Central Intelligence Agency officer Jeffrey Sterling, accused of leaking classified documents. The filing, in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, said Welch is leaving for a “job in the private sector.”
Welch has described his impending departure as a “retirement,” according to the NPR report. NPR said neither the DOJ nor a representative for Welch would comment.
Welch will leave the DOJ as the fallout from the Stevens case continues. A more than 500-page report by special investigator Henry F. Schuelke III revealed that Welch blamed then-Criminal Division leaders Matt Friedrich and Rita Glavin for much of the debacle. In particular, he said their decision to install his deputy, Brenda Morris, as leader of the prosecution essentially sidelined him, making him a superviser without full supervisory authority.
Having such internal conflict come into public view was undoubtedly painful for all involved. Welch seemed particularly stung by Schuelke’s assertion in a later congressional hearing that he had “abdicated” his responsibility, bringing a sharp rebuttal from Welch attorneys William W. Taylor III and Mark H. Lynch, asserting of Schuelke, “We are confident he misspoke.”
Welch has also come under criticism for his leading role in the Barack Obama administration’s crackdown on leaks to the media from government officials. His prosecution of National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake fell apart, with former Justice Department spokesman Matthew A. Miller later conceding that “the outcome of the case probably shows that it was an ill-considered choice for prosecution, given some of the mitigating factors.”
Welch had been expected to lead the prosecution later this year of Sterling, the former CIA officer who is accused of leaking classified documents to a reporter for The New York Times. That case, too, has been marked by assertions that DOJ prosecutors have not been entirely forthcoming in turning over material to the defense, as Main Justice reported.
Still the subject of inquiries on Capitol Hill, the Stevens affair produced accusations that some prosecutors intentionally withheld evidence that might have help the defense of the powerful Alaska Republican, who was convicted in 2008 of gifts in the form of home renovations from an Alaska oil-services tycoon.
Stevens lost his seat in the 2008 election. But Attorney General Eric Holder moved for dismissal of the charges after learning of missteps by the prosecutors. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the District of Columbia, who presided over the Stevens trial, angrily denounced several prosecutors, declaring he had never seen such misbehavior in his quarter-century on the bench. (Stevens died in a plane crash in 2010.)
Welch is a Democrat from Massachusetts, where he burnished his reputation going after public corruption. But his aspirations to be United States Attorney in his home state were extinguished by the repercussions of the Stevens affair.
This article has been updated to reflect the filing today of Welch’s notice of withdrawal from the Jeffrey Sterling case.