Senators demand firing of prosecutors in case against Stevens

Senators are pushing the Department of Justice (DOJ) to fire the prosecutors responsible for the “disgusting” botched criminal case against the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

The outrage in the upper chamber follows the release last week of a 525-page report that found the government kept numerous pieces of evidence from Stevens’s attorney that could have proven his innocence or caused the case against him to be dismissed.

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“It’s disgusting that anybody in the Justice Department would do what they did to him, and it’s really unforgiveable,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a longtime friend of Stevens’s, in an interview. “Ted did not deserve what happened to him. It was one of the meanest, most despicable things I’ve ever seen.”

The report from Washington, D.C., attorney Henry Schuelke found that the government’s case against Stevens was riddled with mistakes.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told The Hill that the two prosecutors at the heart of the report, Joseph Bottini and James Goeke, should be fired and the DOJ should issue an apology to Stevens’s widow and his children for putting them through a "fraudulent" trial.

Bottini and Goeke have been transferred out of the public integrity division of DOJ in response to their involvement in the botched case.

“I think more disciplinary action should be taken strongly within the department to see that never again this happens,” said Feinstein in an interview. “I think they owe them an apology and I think they owe them suitable disciplinary action. … Now, they transferred those prosecutors to another office. I don’t believe that’s sufficient.”

A request for comment was not returned by the DOJ.

A third attorney, Nicholas Marsh, was also implicated in the report. Marsh committed suicide in 2010. Bottini told The New York Times last week that he was ashamed of having brought disrepute to the DOJ and vehemently denied any accusations that he intentionally misled Stevens’s attorneys.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday announced it would hold a hearing next week on the Stevens report.

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) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), would require prosecutors to face penalties from a judge if they did not share evidence with the defense.

Inouye is the longest-serving member and was a close friend of Stevens’s, and Begich won Stevens’s seat in 2008 less than a month after a jury returned its guilty verdict on the sitting senator.

After a prolonged investigation by the FBI, Stevens was indicted in 2008 on charges that he failed to disclose gifts from oil executives. He was convicted about one week before voters went to the polls, and lost his reelection bid that year.

In his first months as attorney general, Eric Holder moved to dismiss the indictment against Stevens and set aside the guilty verdict after reviewing evidence that suggested the DOJ’s witnesses might have perjured themselves and that the government withheld evidence from the defense team. 

Stevens died in a plane crash in 2010.

The 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. Prosecutors withheld evidence from the defense about the true worth of the renovations, including testimony from the government’s key witness on the matter, said Stevens’s lawyers.

The prosecution also did not hand over evidence from Stevens’s defense team that could have discredited the government’s key witness by calling attention to his alleged relations with a teenage prostitute.

Schuelke did not recommend that criminal charges be brought against Bottini or Goeke, citing a lack of proof that the prosecutors acted with intent to hide the evidence from the defense team. Schuelke also noted that the case’s judge, Emmet Sullivan, did not explicitly order the prosecutors to turn over all evidence.

“Although the evidence establishes that this misconduct was intentional, the evidence is insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Bottini and Mr. Goeke violated the criminal contempt statute … which requires the intentional violation of a clear and unambiguous order,” stated the report.

Hatch objected to that line of reasoning, saying the attorneys surely knew they were keeping evidence from Stevens’s lawyers. He said he doesn’t blame Sullivan for not issuing a direct order to turn over evidence to the defense, because it is a practice that has long been observed by lawyers.

“Oh, they knew. They actually knew that they were taking testimony that would have helped him,” said Hatch. “[Sullivan] didn’t have to [issue an order]. That’s a firm principle of criminal law. He shouldn’t have to do that. I don’t blame the judge.”

A second review of the case being conducted by Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility is expected to be completed later this year. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is pushing for that report to be released publicly.

This is not the first time there has been an outcry from the Senate over the Stevens case. Late last year, The Hill reported that a bipartisan group of senators were clamoring for the DOJ to apologize to Stevens’s family and fire the attorneys involved.