Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Department Of Justice Dismisses Indictment Against Former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens With Prejudice, No New Trial; Mark Begich Blows It Off

Update April 7th: Judge Emmet Sullivan formally dismisses the conviction. Ted Stevens in the clear. Details HERE.

April 1st, 2009 will go down as a red-letter day in the personal history of former Alaska U.S. Senator Ted Stevens. It is the day he finally received justice. The Department of Justice announced that they are dismissing the seven-count indictment against Stevens with prejudice, meaning that they will not try him again. Primary local media stories in the Anchorage Daily News, KTVA Channel 11, and KTUU Channel 2 (with two news videos). A complete index of all ADN stories about the Ted Stevens case can be found HERE, and all previous posts on the Ted Stevens case accessible HERE, with the most recent post appearing first.

National stories of pertinence from ABC News, the Washington Post, and CNN.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced the decision personally, including his intent to refer the case to the Office of Professional Responsibility to determine if any DOJ personnel associated with the prosecution should be sanctioned. According to the actual motion to set aside the verdict, the October 6th, 2002 memo known as the "Torricelli Note", presented at trial as Exhibit #495, was the smoking gun fatally undermining the government's case. The controversy revolves around an April 15th interview in which Bill Allen said that he (Bill Allen) did not recall talking to Bob Persons regarding giving a bill to the defendant. But this statement varies with Allen's trial testimony, in which he described a conversation with Persons about the Torricelli note. In addition, the April 15th interview notes indicate that Allen estimated that if his workers had performed efficiently, the fair market value of the work his corporation performed on defendant's Girdwood chalet would have been $80,000. Ted Stevens was not informed prior to or during trial of the statements by Bill Allen on April 15th, and this information could have been used by the defendant to cross-examine Bill Allen and in arguments to the jury. Holder also cited Stevens' age as a factor in his decision not to seek a new trial.

There is one remaining formality. Typically before a dismissal can take effect, the defense must file a motion in response and the judge must rule. It is possible, but unlikely, that the judge could deny the motion. Judge Emmet Sullivan scheduled a hearing for April 7th to take up the motion.

The Alaska Dispatch earlier presented a series of columns by former U.S. Attorney Wev Shea explaining why the Ted Stevens prosecution was bogus:

-- The corrupt, unethical prosecution of Stevens
-- The corrupt, unethical prosecution of Ted Stevens, Part II
-- The corrupt, unethical prosecution of Senator Stevens, Part III
-- The corrupt, unethical prosecution of Ted Stevens, Part IV
-- Misconduct in Stevens' prosecution not norm for Justice Department

Reaction by Ted Stevens and his defense team are posted HERE. Stevens expressed faith that he would be exonerated, expressed thanks to his family, defense team, and Alaskans, and reminded people that the election outcome was affected by the prosecution. Senator Lisa Murkowski also expressed her support of Stevens, and wondered how he would get back his good name. Likewise, Congressman Don Young vigorously expressed support for Stevens. Governor Sarah Palin also strongly applauded the Justice Department's decision, characterizing Stevens' ordeal as a horrible experience.

In contrast, Stevens' successor, Senator Mark Begich, issued an extremely tepid statement of support for the DOJ decision. Begich said, “Assuming this morning’s media reports are accurate, the decision by President Obama’s Justice Department to end the prosecution of Senator Ted Stevens is reasonable. I always said I didn’t think Senator Stevens should serve time in jail and hopefully this decision ensures that is the case. It’s time for Senator Stevens, his family and Alaskans to move on and put this behind us”.

What a limp-wristed, phlegmatic, damning-by-faint-praise statement by Begich! One would think that Senator Begich would be more confident in the integrity of his stewardship. The fact that Ted Stevens' conviction was the tailwind propelling Mark Begich to the Senate does not make him any less a Senator; Alaskans have long since reconciled themselves to the outcome. But Mark Begich could have spoken more like an Alaskan in this case; the Alaska Dispatch also shares this point of view.

Other Alaskan reaction is posted in this separate ADN story, and the Associated Press has documented quotes from other Alaskan notables. Most Stevens supporters merely attribute his troubles to sloppy bookkeeping. On The Alaska Standard, conservative radio shock jock Dan Fagan is absolutely jubilant and thinks Stevens should run for Governor in 2010. While Stevens undoubtedly would defeat Sarah Palin in a Republican primary, the experience of Frank Murkowski should remind us that success in Washington doesn't always replicate well in Juneau.

Update: Eight letters to the editor appeared in ADN on April 2nd; four for Stevens, four against.

A few Alaskans are asking if this is enough justification to invalidate the election of Mark Begich to the U.S. Senate. This would be unlikely; the election itself would have to be shown as fraud in order to invalidate it. Consequently, don't expect a new election to be called. Nor should a new election be held. Even though clearly propelled by a tailwind, Mark Begich won his election fair and square. Besides, at the age of 85, the time was clearly approaching for a new generation to take over. And since Ted Stevens isn't exactly one of the legendary "Three Nephites", it is also appointed unto him to die one time, as it is to the rest of us.

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