Attorney General Eric Holder and other Justice Department leaders have been granted ethics waivers to allow them to review matters related to the botched Sen. Ted Stevens case, the White House disclosed Friday.
A team of Justice lawyers is under investigation for their handling of the public corruption case against the former senator from Alaska. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan dismissed the charges against Stevens in April after a Justice Department review found that DOJ lawyers hadn’t made potentially exculpatory evidence available to the defense.
A special counsel appointed by Sullivan is conducting a criminal contempt probe of the DOJ lawyers, while the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility is conducting a parallel internal ethics review of the case. Two of the DOJ lawyers under scrutiny have hired counsel from the law firms where Holder, Criminal Division chief Lanny Breuer and Deputy Attorney General David Ogden were partners.
Administration ethics rules require Justice appointees to recuse themselves from official matters in which their former law firms represent parties. Holder and Breuer were partners at Covington & Burling LLP and Ogden at WilmerHale.
“[T]he particular circumstances surrounding these investigations are unusual, and present important issues even at this early stage of the process,” the letters from Assistant Attorney General for Administration Lee Lofthus said. “It is highly unusual to have an investigation by the court concurrent with an OPR investigation, and it raises jurisdictional issues and questions concerning the authority of the special counsel and the proper relationships between OPR’s investigation and that of the special counsel.”
Patty Stemler, chief of the Criminal Division’s appellate section, is fighting a civil contempt finding by Judge Sullivan in the Stevens case. She is represented by WilmerHale’s Howard M. Shapiro and Mary Katherine Gardner. It is unclear who is represented by Covington. Covington’s Mark Lynch represents Public Integrity Section chief William Welch II (along with Zuckerman Spaeder LLP’s William Taylor.)
The waivers were issued in May. The White House disclosed them on Friday as part of a transparency effort. Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, explained in a blog post here:
Several months ago, the public interest community suggested that we also make available in a central place limited waivers granted by other federal agencies besides the White House. Today, we are releasing all ten such agency-granted waivers (none of which involve lobbying). The President’s Executive Order calls for an annual report to be completed in early 2010 that will include all waivers granted pursuant to the Order. We are, however, pleased to make all of the pledge waivers granted to date by this Administration available now-more than four months early.
This article has been updated.