Stevens case flares up again

Richard Mauer

Attorneys for Sen. Ted Stevens said in papers filed in court Wednesday that additional information prosecutors promised to provide about a disgruntled government witness had been submitted secretly to the trial judge in the case.

The filing by the defense appears to clear up the mystery of what happened to the government's promise to explain why the witness claimed to have given false testimony. The promise, made by prosecutors in a public filing last week, was made good on Monday with a sealed document to be read only by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington, D.C., according to the defense.

But the defense filing raised another mystery: Stevens' lawyers said the sealed filing involved an ongoing federal investigation that could involve a wiretap, but they had no more details. They demanded to be let in on the document's contents even while promising to not tell anyone else.

A month after Stevens' conviction on seven counts of failing to disclose gifts and benefits, primarily from the former oil-field service company Veco Corp. and its chief executive Bill Allen, there's no sign that the contentious relationship between defense and prosecution is letting up.

The latest flare-up began last week. David Anderson, Allen's estranged nephew, said in a letter to the trial judge that some of his testimony in the Stevens case was false.

At issue wasn't any evidence of wrongdoing by Stevens, but whether Anderson's testimony had been brokered by an immunity deal for him and more than a dozen of his friends and relatives. Anderson has gone back and forth on that issue, but in his letter appeared to assert that he believed he had such a deal. He had said the opposite in his testimony.

There is nothing in writing, and government lawyers said in court filings their only arrangement with Anderson was that he would not be asked to testify against his relatives. Anderson's girlfriend is the daughter of former Sen. Jerry Ward, a subject of the federal corruption investigation in Alaska.

Stevens' lawyers said the question of immunity is important because they could have used it to discredit Anderson's testimony. Last week, they asked Sullivan to order a hearing in February in which they could question Anderson, FBI agents and prosecutors about whether the deal existed and whether it was improperly withheld from Stevens' defense team.

The government responded Friday with its own filings, asserting that Anderson's claims in his letter were false. Prosecutors promised to provide more information Monday, including descriptions of documents and surveillance video, but the day passed without any new filings. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department in Washington said that if the government's explanation was filed under seal, she couldn't acknowledge its existence.

In the defense pleading filed Wednesday, Stevens' lawyers said they received an e-mail from prosecutors saying the additional information was filed in secret for only Sullivan to view.

The defense lawyers asserted such a filing was inappropriate and violated the law and court rules, saying the circumstances were the same as another case in 2007 that was reversed on an appeal.

"Just as in this case, the government justified its (private communications with the judge) to protect the secrecy of its investigation -- a wiretap -- in an unrelated case," the defense attorneys wrote.

They said that, at a minimum, the government should have formally notified the defense before the sealed filing to allow it to object.

"Instead, the government took unilateral action, indistinguishable from marching into Chambers and speaking to the judge outside the presence of the defense. As a result, the trial judge in a criminal case apparently has heard evidence, to which the Defendant has no access, regarding a contested motion that affects the Defendant's liberty. Such conduct by the government should not be tolerated," Stevens' team said.

Sullivan had ordered the attorneys into his court Dec. 1 for a "brief hearing" to "discuss" the letter and the defense concerns. But on Wednesday, he changed the brief hearing to a more formal status conference.

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