Former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens’ death in a plane crash on Monday has galvanized his ex-counsel to send out a news release condemning federal prosecutors for the botched corruption case against him.
Brendan Sullivan and Robert Cary of Williams & Connolly LLP, which represented the senator during his 2008 corruption case, called Stevens “an American hero” and emphasized the profound effect of the government’s case had on him.
“Senator Stevens did not deserve the treatment he received late in his career from some members of the Department of Justice,” Sullivan and Cary wrote. “The verdict against him was based on fabricated evidence. The Attorney General asked that Judge [Emmet] Sullivan dismiss the charges when he learned of some of the government’s misconduct.”
The Alaska Republican was convicted of corruption in December 2008, but Attorney General Eric Holder threw out the conviction after an internal review exposed prosecutorial misconduct, including failure to turn over evidence to Steven’s lawyers that might have helped in his defense.
Another investigation into those allegations by court-appointed prosecutor Henry Schuelke III is ongoing.
Fallout from the Stevens case devastated the reputation of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, which prosecutes public-official corruption and handled the Stevens case. In its wake, the department replaced its senior staff and instituted several reforms, including the appointment of senior lawyers to each U.S. Attorney’s office to oversee criminal discovery.
But despite his legal victory, the case against Stevens ended his long-running Senate career.
“Stevens was innocent, and insisted on fighting the charges,” the partners said in their statement. “He remained profoundly affected by the government’s misconduct and its implications for others. His fervent hope was that meaningful change would be brought to the criminal justice system so that others would not be mistreated as he was by the very officials whose duty it is to represent the United States justly and fairly.”
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Paul O’Brien, chief of the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, emerged as the sober face of the Justice Department at today’s humiliating hearing in which U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan voided the high-profile conviction of now-ex-Sen. Ted Stevens on corruption charges.
“I hope the court will appreciate, speaking on behalf of the Justice Department, we deeply, deeply regret this occured,” O’Brien told the judge, referring to the prosecution errors that are now under criminal contempt investigation by the court.
O’Brien was the lead in a three-member team appointed by the DOJ in February to review the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in the case against the Alaska Republican, who lost his Senate re-election bid in November after his conviction in October on seven counts relating to his alleged failure to report home renovations and other gifts on his financial disclosure forms.
David Jaffe, the deputy chief of the Domestic Security Section; and William Stuckwisch, senior trial attorney in the Fraud Section, joined O’Brien in reviewing the case. Their findings led U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to ask the court to dismiss the indictment with prejudice. Jaffe and Stuckwish didn’t speak at Tuesday’s hearing.
Sullivan complimented O’Brien and his team. “This court has no doubt that you … worked around the clock over the last seven weeks,” Sullivan said. “It could not have been an easy task, and the court thanks you for your effort.”
O’Brien described how the new team found prosecutors’ notes from an April 15, 2008 interview with lead witness Bill Allen, owner of an Alaska oil services company, that undercut his credibility. The notes said Allen did not recall a key conversation with another witness, and that Allen estimated the work done on Stevens’ home as worth about $80,000 – not the $250,000 claimed by the government.
“The government was obligated to produce the information from the April 15, 2008 interview,” O’Brien said. “”They did not do this.” Judge Sullivan interjected: “So what you did [in turning the notes over to the defense] was what should have been done months ago.”
Lead defense attorney Brendan Sullivan Jr. of Williams & Connolly described how O’Brien in March hand-delivered to his office potentially exculpatory material that the review team had turned up. The materials led Sullivan to schedule a 10 a.m. meeting with the DOJ on April 1 to ask for dismissal of the case.
Sullivan said in his lengthy remarks to the court that he’d come to his office at 4 a.m. on April 1 to prepare for the meeting, expecting he’d have to “tell them everything,” because “this new team” had “been on it such a short time.” But at 9 a.m., an hour before the scheduled meeting, O’Brien phoned to say the Attorney General had already decided to ask for dismissal, Sullivan said. “They knew, when they saw the information, how important it was, even though they’d been in the case for four, five or six weeks,” Sullivan said – a clear slap at the original prosecution team, whom Sullivan blasted as “corrupt” and “devious.”
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Former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens’ defense attorney, Brendan Sullivan, delivered a stinging rebuke to the prosecution team at today’s hearing before U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan. “We were no match for corrupt prosecutors,” he said, turning the government’s allegations of corruption against Stevens back on the government.
• Sullivan criticized the former Acting Associate Attorney General for the Criminal Division (a reference to Matt Friedrich). “One of the most remarkable things” was that Friedrich after the October verdicts “goes out to the steps [of the courthouse], gathers the prosecutors in a family photo and says to the world, ‘The Department of Justice is proud of its team,’” Sullivan said. “How could the leading attorney of the Department of Justice over the Criminal Division make such a statement?” It is “how corruption can flourish,” Sullivan said.
• Sullivan acknowledged that the “lead prosecutor” (a reference to Brenda Morris, who joined the prosecution team two months before the October trial) didn’t participate in the key April 15, 2008 interview of lead government witness Bill Allen. Allen owned an oil services company that the government alleged provided home renovations services to Stevens that the senator didn’t report on his financial disclosure filings. But notes taken by two unidentified prosecutors, unearthed by a later DOJ review team, found that Allen in April 2008 gave an account of the disputed project that contradicted his later testimony at trial. The notes should have been turned over to the defense under Brady, the government said in a motion to dismiss the indictment.
• Sullivan said it was “interesting” that five prosecutors participated in the Allen interview, but only two sets of notes surfaced.
• He accused the prosecutors of allowing their professional ambition to override their obligation to provide exculpatory material to the defense. “A loss in such circumstances blights a career, and maybe even ruins it. So they abandoned all decency to win a conviction,” Sullivan said.
• “It is clear from the evidence that the government engaged in intentional” misconduct, he said. “While there could have been some mistakes in there, most of it was clear, intentional, devious and willful.”