Honor, integrity and the rule of law took a giant step forward yesterday as Attorney General Eric Holder made the difficult decision to drop the case against former Republican Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens. Holder took the extraordinary steps of both asking the federal judge in the trail to throw out the corruption conviction already won by the prosecution and then end both the investigation and future prosecution of the 85 year old Stevens.
And in ending the prosecution, Holder sent a powerful message to all federal prosecutors that the rule of law must be followed to the letter. What a refreshing change after a long parade of political partisan hacks who held the Office of Attorney General over the last eight years.
National Public Radio reports:
|"After careful review, I have concluded that certain information should have been provided to the defense for use at trial," Holder said in a statement Wednesday. "In light of this conclusion, and in consideration of the totality of the circumstances of this particular case, I have determined that it is in the interest of justice to dismiss the indictment and not proceed with a new trial."|
U.S. District Court Judge Emmett Sullivan set an April 7 hearing on the motion to dismiss the case.
Judge Sullivan has repeatedly delayed sentencing and criticized trial prosecutors for what he has called prosecutorial misconduct. At one point, prosecutors were held in contempt. Things got so bad that the Justice Department finally replaced the trial team, including top-ranking officials in the Public Integrity Section, which is charged with prosecuting public corruption cases.
The straw that apparently broke Holder's back was the discovery of more prosecutorial notes that were not turned over to the Stevens defense team as required by law. The notes were discovered by the new prosecution team, which was appointed in February.
With more ugly hearings expected, Holder is said to have decided late Tuesday to pull the plug. His decision is said to be based on Stevens' age — he's 85 — and the fact that Stevens is no longer in the Senate. Perhaps most important, Justice Department officials say Holder wants to send a message to prosecutors throughout the department that actions he regards as misconduct will not be tolerated.
Holder began his career in the Public Integrity Section; according to sources, he was horrified by the failure of prosecutors to turn over all relevant materials to the defense.
The attorney general also knows the trial judge, Emmett Sullivan, well. The two men served together as judges of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia before each was promoted to higher office.
Holder respects Judge Sullivan and reportedly has watched with growing alarm as the judge repeatedly has scolded prosecutors for failing to follow his judicial orders to fully inform defense lawyers about everything from potentially favorable evidence to the travel plans of witnesses. During the trial, prosecutors' missteps led the judge to instruct the jury to disregard some evidence.
It's a bold and gutsy move. It have politically convenient to continue to attack the Republican Stevens. There is little doubt many of Holder's predecessors would have just continued to use the Stevens case for political posturing. Not Eric Holder. Eric Holder is the Attorney general all America deserves.
Holder knows that when the rule of law wins, we all win.