In a court filing late Friday night, the Justice Department disclosed that Public Integrity chief William Welch II voluntarily made the decision to pull himself off the prosecution team of a Jack Abramoff-related case.
Welch’s partial recusal in the case came on June 9, the government filing said. That is nearly two months after U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle said during a court hearing that Justice should erect a “wall” to separate Welch from the public corruption case against ex-lobbyist Kevin Ring, and 10 days after Ring raised questions in a court filing about Welch’s handling of evidence during discovery.
The recusal did, however, come one day after Main Justice ran this story publicizing Ring’s allegations against Welch, who is also under criminal investigation by a court to determine whether he and other DOJ lawyers intentionally withheld exculpatory evidence from the prosecution team of then-Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska.
The sparring between prosecutors and Ring has become increasingly tense. It also appears to be increasingly focused for both sides on winning the out-of-court public relations battle.
With the cloud of the Stevens investigation over PIN, Ring — a former associate of Abramoff accused of corrupting public officials and obstructing justice — is seeking to raise doubts about the section’s overall integrity in handling evidence. At the same time, the Stevens debacle has raised the stakes for the government in the Ring case. Another ruling that it had mishandled evidence would really smart.
The government has hit back at the defense team. This June 15 filing, for example, accused Ring of not reciprocating with the government in discovery sharing.
In the brief filed Friday, the government said Welch has recused himself from the Ring case to avoid being a distraction:
It is apparent that the defendant will continue to use Mr. Welch’s supervision of the Public Integrity Section and the Stevens matter as an excuse for filing distracting motions. Accordingly, Mr. Welch has determined to withdraw himself from supervision over the Ring prosecution. Mr. Raymond Hulser is now Acting Chief of the Public Integrity Section for the purposes of this prosecution.
The other strange wrinkle in this case involves Henry Schuelke III, the white collar investigations lawyer who just seems to be everybody’s good friend.
Ring lawyers raised conflict-of-interest questions about Schuelke, who will be a major witness against Ring and also happens to have been appointed by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan to investigate Welch and other DOJ lawyers for possible criminal contempt in the botched Ted Stevens case. Ring is accused of lying to Schuelke during an internal investigation of the imprionsed lobbyist’s former firm, Greenberg Traurig. The firm hired Schuelke to conduct the internal probe in 2004.
Ring asked Huvelle to disqualify Schuelke from testifying against Ring, arguing that prosecutors might be reluctant to correct any misstatements by Schuelke for fear of angering the man who is also investigating Welch for criminal contempt. Other than Welch, only one other PIN lawyer is working on the Ring case, with the rest of the team from the District of Maryland. That PIN lawyer, Michael Ferrara, is not under investigation in the Stevens matter.
In the April court hearing, Huvelle expressed doubt that “Hank,” as she called Schuelke, would do anything that lacked integrity. Huvelle also noted in the hearing that Ring defense lawyer Richard Hibey is a friend of Schuelke. The government filing on Friday picked up that theme. It said:
The defendant has access to Mr. Schuelke, just as he would any other witness. Lead defense counsel is known to be a long-time friend of Mr. Schuelke. Indeed, defense counsel has admittedly already had a telephone conversation with Mr. Schuelke in which defense counsel inquired about his appointment as a special prosecutor.
The government also said in Friday’s filing:
It is not apparent that a lawyer of Mr. Schuelke’s stature would prefer to give uncorrected false testimony on the stand, rather than have his testimony corrected. To “curry favor” with Mr. Schuelke, a prosecutor might be better served to refresh his recollection if that recollection were inaccurate, rather than leave a false statement uncorrected.
The government added: “Mr. Schuelke’s testimony is important and relates to key issues in the overall case” against Ring.
One purpose of the government’s Friday night filing appears to be to correct the impression that Welch was “removed” from the Ring case. We reported here that Welch was taken off the case, and The Washington Post reported here that Welch and his deputy, Brenda Morris, who is also under investigation for criminal contempt, “have been moved into other roles” following the Stevens case and revelations that materials were withheld in other public corruption cases in Alaska.
The DOJ filing in the Ring case says that Welch’s removal was voluntary.
However, the filing also says Welch ”will continue to be consulted whenever necessary to make sure that the government’s Brady, Giglio and other discovery obligations are being properly discharged,” according to the motion.
You mean, as he did in the Stevens case? Wow, what a mess.
[...] reports that Department of Justice lawyer William Welch II has recused himself from the latest prosecution [...]