The FBI director said the lead agent in the botched Sen. Ted Stevens case is undergoing a conduct review by the agency’s internal ethics watchdog.
Mary Beth Kepner is facing investigation by the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility, Robert Mueller told a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday. Kepner’s handling of witness notes came under scrutiny in a report on the bungled prosecution by special investigator Henry F. Schuelke III.
Rep. Dan Lundgren (R-Calif.) said in the hearing that while an OPR investigation is well and good, the FBI needs to show it is taking serious action.
“You have an obligation to be absolutely fair [to defendants], because if in fact you make an error, you’ve not only done an injustice to an individual, but you’ve also done an injustice” to others, Lundgren said, noting that in the Stevens case his Alaska constituents also suffered. At the time of his 2008 trial, Stevens was the longest serving Republican in the U.S. Senate, but he lost re-election shortly after his conviction.
Lundgren pointed to the special investigator’s report, which found that Kepner did not record post-interview notes with key witnesses in the months leading up to trial, potentially leaving out evidence that could have helped the defense. The former California attorney general said the allegations are “disturbing,” adding that “I always thought that when you find improper conduct by officials, action needs to be taken.”
Lundgren added: “That makes it very, very clear to others in the department that such actions will not be tolerated.”
Mueller said the review is ongoing and that any individual has the right to present his or her side of the story.
“There needs to be some posture that this is being taken seriously,” Lundgren replied.
The allegations surrounding Kepner came to light after fellow FBI agent Chad Joy filed a whistleblower complaint with the Justice Department in 2009. In his complaint, Joy claimed Kepner, along with the department prosecutors, worked to conceal evidence from the defense. He also alleged that Kepner had an improper relationship with the prosecution’s key witness, Bill Allen.
Mueller did not say when the OPR review would be concluded or if the findings would be made public. The Justice Department is doing its own OPR investigation of the prosecutors involved in the case. Holder has said in testimony on Capitol Hill that he expects that report to be concluded soon, and that he would work with Congress to make the information available for review.
The fallout from the case, which has angered many in Congress, has left a black mark on the Justice Department and its Public Integrity Section. Special investigator Schuelke, after a two-year investigation, found that two of the Alaska U.S. Assistant Attorneys willfully withheld evidence that was favorable to the defense (both have disputed this finding.) Stevens lost his senate seat shortly after being convicted of lying on his campaign finance forms in 2009. But the case blew up after it became clear that exculpatory evidence was not handed over to the defense during trial. Attorney General Eric Holder sought to vacate the conviction and the case was thrown out all together. In 2010, the Alaska senator died in a plane crash.