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Stevens case has long-reaching impact

John Kiernan
Dolan Media Newswires

Long Island, NY – Shock is the only word that can describe how I felt when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder concluded prosecutors had acted so egregiously in the case against former Sen. Ted Stevens that his conviction on ethics charges should be vacated. Even more shocking: Not only did Judge Emmet Sullivan accept Holder’s recommendation, but he also appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the six prosecutors involved because their actions were so out of bounds.

Sullivan said he had never seen such misconduct as that which occurred in the Stevens case.

Stevens was charged with lying on Senate disclosure forms to conceal improvements on his Alaska home. The work and materials had been arranged for by Bill Allen, a friend of Stevens.

When Allen was first questioned, he made statements that could have helped Stevens’ defense. The notes from this interview were never given to Stevens’ defense team, despite a legal requirement to do so. Allen’s testimony at the trial conflicted with what he first told investigators. These notes also revealed that Allen said he had no memory of a conversation with a friend of the senator, but, at the trial, he testified about that conversation in great detail.

Stevens was one of the most powerful senators and a fixture in Alaskan politics for five decades. He had a long and distinguished record. He ran for re-election in November, and, even though he was convicted just before election day, lost by only 4,000 votes. Clearly, the prosecution cost Stevens his seat.

Earlier this year, questions already had been raised about the Stevens prosecution. In February, Sullivan held prosecutors in contempt for not providing documents that could have aided Stevens’ defense.

Maybe Stevens did accept gifts that he should not have taken. Certainly, he should have been more thorough on disclosure forms. However, I am always troubled when an official running for re-election is indicted a few months before Election Day.

Holder and Sullivan should be applauded for the difficult decisions they made. Although he was not attorney general when this misconduct occurred, it is a serious embarrassment to Holder’s department. It was appropriate for him to negate Stevens’ conviction.

There is a lesson from this case that goes beyond Stevens: Prosecutors will break the rules to advance their own interests. Their misconduct in this case directly affected the political makeup of the U.S. Senate, which will affect every citizen in this country. It is an outrage.

When an elected official is indicted, remember he is innocent until proven guilty.

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