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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Congressmen Call to Disbar Sen. Stevens’ Prosecutors

WASHINGTON (CN) - The prosecutors who concealed evidence to score a conviction against the late Sen. Ted Stevens should be disbarred, officials said at a congressional hearing Thursday.

"I don't believe that the people that took Ted Steven's life, how they should ever be able to practice law again," said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who added that he didn't personally like Stevens, but felt the prosecution was an injustice.

A federal jury convicted in the Alaska senator of felony corruption in 2008 for lying about home renovations and other gifts he had received from executives of VECO Corp., an oil field services company.

Stevens, who held his office for more than four decades, lost his re-election bid in 2009 in the wake of the scandal, but his name was cleared after the government admitted that it had held back exculpatory evidence about a key witness at least twice during the trial. He died in a plane crash the following year.

The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security met Thursday to investigate the misconduct committed by the federal prosecutors in Stevens' case.

Henry Scheulke III, a partner of Janis, Scheulke and Wechsler, testified before the committee, detailing how prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that may have exonerated Stevens.

After being appointed by a federal judge to investigate the case, Scheulke found that "prosecutors never conducted or supervised a comprehensive and effective review for exculpatory information."

In particular, Scheulke found that prosecutors withheld information on Bill Allen, a VECO executive who testified against Stevens. Allen, as it turned out, had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old prostitute, information that the government allegedly knew could discredit Allen's testimony.

"Can I use the word 'prostitute,'" Gohmert asked when questioning Scheulke.

Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner answered with an allusion to the more recent political scandal involving trysts that Secret Service agents allegedly had in Cartagena, Colombia.

"If the gentleman would yield, yes, you can use that word since the Washington Post has used it so much this week," said Rep. Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc.

Though prosecutors demonstrably violated the Brady rule, Scheulke said the problem is not "widespread or pervasive."

The Brady rule originates from the U.S. Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland, in which the court said prosecutors cannot suppress evidence that would be favorable to a defendant or that would impeach the credibility of a government witness.

"There are people who don't have the rank of United States senator who no doubt feel the effect of the Brady rule," Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said.

Several subcommittee members expressed their disbelief that prosecutors even took the case to begin with, given that records show that Stevens and his wife were paying for renovations to their Alaskan lodge themselves, and that the renovations cost far less than prosecutors had claimed.

"I actually like federal prosecutors, but they're not known for taking close cases that could go either way unless they're forced to because of a high-profile defendant," Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said. "It doesn't seem to be a very good case from a factual standpoint. Why was it brought in the first place?"

Sensenbrenner dismissed Scheulke after over an hour of questioning, praising the lawyer for his 514-page report on the prosecutorial misconduct.

Schuelke's report implicated several prosecutors by name, including Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Bottini and James Goeke, and Justice Department attorneys Nicholas Marsh and Edward Sullivan.

Bottini's defense attorney Kenneth Wainstein with Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft also testified at the Thursday hearing.

"Joe is the type of person for whom the term straight arrow was invented," Wainstein said.

Sensenbrenner criticized Bottini for deflecting blame to his supervisors with the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice, but Wainstein played that error down.

"This really was a series of mistakes," Wainstein said. "It was a tremendous challenge what he had to deal with, but I believe he got some of the facts wrong. I believe he got some of the inferences wrong. He had a reason for what he did that was not nefarious."

Seyfarth Shaw senior counsel Alan Baron addressed the subcommittee as an outside legal expert.

Democrats on the committee emphasized how Brady violations can doom small-profile defendants as well. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said the problem is a symptom of prosecutors having the attitude to "win at all cost."

Sensenbrenner closed the meeting after nearly three hours of testimony.

"This is one of the blackest incidents in the U.S. Justice Department," Sensenbrenner said. "Through their conduct, they ruined the reputation of a U.S. senator and cost him his election. I think this terrible miscarriage of injustice warrants disbarment."

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