Report rips DOJ attorneys in botched Stevens's case

Two Department of Justice prosecutors have been suspended without pay and a Senate Democrat has scheduled a committee hearing following the release Thursday of a DOJ report that detailed the government’s misconduct in its botched case against the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

The DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) released its 672-page report on the Stevens case to top ranking lawmakers after more than two years of investigating the alleged wrongdoing of the federal prosecutors waging a criminal lawsuit against the veteran senator.

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Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, has scheduled a hearing to review the report.

The DOJ, also on Thursday, announced it was suspending Joseph Bottini and James Goeke without pay. The report found the attorneys “acted in reckless disregard” for their legal obligations by not disclosing exculpatory evidence to Stevens’s defense lawyers. The two attorneys had already been transferred out of the public integrity division of DOJ in response to their involvement in the botched case.

A powerhouse of a senator, Stevens was convicted in 2008 on charges that he accepted improper gifts from an oil executive in the form of renovations to his cabin. About one week later, Stevens lost his bid for reelection. In August 2010, Stevens died in a plane crash in Alaska.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the panel’s hearing on the matter — slated for June 6 — would examine what went wrong and what steps can be taken by Congress to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

“Prosecutors have an obligation to get the process right, not just to try to win cases,” Grassley said in a statement. 

“This was a high profile case that impacted the outcome of an election. If the Justice Department isn’t getting a big case such as this right, it begs the question of what is happening in courts across the country every day,” Grassley said.

Early in 2009,  Attorney General Eric Holder moved to overturn the conviction, citing reports by whistleblowers that government prosecutors failed to disclose key evidence to Stevens’s legal team. Two reviews were ordered, but before either of them reached conclusive findings, Stevens was killed in the plane crash.

Senators have repeatedly called for the DOJ to apologize to the Stevens family and have called on the agency to fire the attorneys involved in the misconduct.

The OPR report found that Bottini “acted in reckless disregard of his disclosure obligations by failing to provide this information to the defense.”

Bottini failed to disclose several key aspects in the government’s case against Stevens, including false testimony from a key government witness about his alleged sexual involvement with an underage girl, according to the report.

The report did not find that William Welch, the lead prosecutor on the case, violated his legal obligations in any way. Welch recently left the DOJ for a job in the private sector.

A previous report, conducted by D.C. attorney Henry Schuelke, found that the DOJ’s case against Stevens was riddled with mistakes. Schuelke’s report found that prosecutors inflated the worth of the home renovations Stevens had done by more than three times the actual value, in an effort to paint a more egregious offense.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a close friend and political ally of Stevens’s, has introduced a measure in an attempt to prevent a case like his from being mishandled in the future.

Her bill, which has garnered the support of Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), would require prosecutors to face penalties from a judge if they did not share evidence with the defense.