Congress reacts to prosecutorial misconduct findings

Sean Cockerham | Tribune Media Services

WASHINGTON -- Congress is moving on the findings of prosecutorial misconduct in the Ted Stevens case, with Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski introducing a bill and the Senate Judiciary Committee planning a hearing on what happened.

Murkowski told reporters Thursday that the Justice Department did nothing while its prosecutors went over the line in an attempt to get a conviction at any cost. "Instead of justice being blind in this case it was blindly ignored," Murkowski said.

The Republican said she was introducing legislation to require prosecutors to immediately turn over evidence favorable to the defense as soon as they come across it. Murkowski said there's no national standard and too much is left to interpretation.

Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, who beat Stevens in the 2008 election shortly after his conviction, is signing on as a co-sponsor.

"This legislation will help level the playing field and ensure citizens of any stature are treated fairly and given the opportunity to confront the evidence against them," he said in a written statement.

Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Bar Association, the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, among others, also said they were supporting the bill.

Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said he wants to hold a hearing before the April Congressional recess on what happened in the Stevens case.

"If the press reports we've seen are true, there was some serious misconduct on the part of the federal prosecutors in withholding material. So we will, and I think (Iowa Republican) Senator Grassley will join with me, have a hearing on that matter," he said.

Senators of both parties who were close to Stevens have been expressing outrage over what happened. Anne Wiesmann, chief counsel for the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, agreed Thursday that the prosecutors were out of bounds. But she said she doesn't believe the report shows Stevens to be innocent of the charges that were made against him.

"I think the unfortunate thing is we'll never know because the government didn't play fair in its prosecution," she said. "It does appear there was some exculpatory evidence and that there was at least some confusion about whether he'd received the bill, what he thought, what his intent was. But I think objectively speaking it's still the case there was a gap between the improvements done to his home and what he paid," she said.

It's also clear Stevens was very close with the "criminally and ethically challenged" Veco chief Bill Allen, she said. Allen, a self made Alaska construction executive and longtime political influence peddler, spoke of fishing and traveling with Stevens, and how they used to go to a desert southwest "boot camp" to drink wine and walk off pounds.

Anchorage Daily News