WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors pursuing the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens engaged in "significant, widespread and, at times, intentional" misconduct but should not face criminal contempt charges, a special court investigator has concluded.
In a 500-page report, whose conclusions were made public Monday by a federal judge, special investigator Henry Schuelke III determined that prosecutors systematically withheld potentially useful information from Stevens' defense team.
Schuelke and his colleague, William B. Shields, further concluded that some of the withholding was "willful and intentional," and that it was more widespread than previously realized.
"Mr. Schuelke and Mr. Shields found evidence of concealment and serious misconduct that was previously unknown and almost certainly would never have been revealed, at least to the court and to the public, but for their exhaustive investigation," U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan noted Monday.
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Sullivan ordered the special investigation following allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in 2009.
Nonetheless, after reviewing an estimated 150,000 documents and conducting numerous interviews, Schuelke concluded that criminal contempt charges should not be brought against the prosecutors from the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section. The prosecutors, Schuelke reasoned, had not disobeyed a direct order.
"Because the court accepted the prosecutors’ repeated assertions that they were complying with their obligations and proceeding in good faith, the court did not issue a 'clear and unequivocal' order directing the attorneys to follow the law," Sullivan stated.
Schuelke's 500-page report remains under seal, pending Justice Department review. The department has until Jan. 6 to advise Sullivan what parts of the Schuelke report should be redacted, though the judge already has indicated he intends to make as much of the report public as possible.
"The public’s interest in the results of this investigation, which reveal failures of supervision and/or misconduct by attorneys in the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section in the prosecution of a sitting United States senator, is as compelling today as it was on April 7, 2009," Sullivan stated.
In April 2009, the Justice Department had announced it was dropping all charges against Stevens. The extraordinary move came after a five-week trial in the fall of 2008, in which Stevens had been convicted of making false statements by failing to report gifts he had received.
During the trial and for several months afterward, there were serious allegations and confirmed instances of prosecutorial misconduct that called into question the integrity of prosecutors.
The Justice Department ultimately acknowledged that it had failed to share with the former senator's lawyers the notes from an interview with the prosecution's key witness. Those notes contradicted the witness's trial testimony and could have been favorable to Stevens at trial.
Separately, Attorney General Eric Holder told a Senate panel earlier this month that the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility is nearly done with its own investigation.
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