Legal analysts and lawmakers on Wednesday blasted prosecutors' conduct in the prosecution of former Alaska Republican senator Ted Stevens, while welcoming Attorney General Eric Holder's move to have the conviction thrown out.
Holder made the extraordinary request in court documents filed Wednesday, citing new revelations that U.S. lawyers had withheld key evidence from Stevens' attorneys at trial. The Senate's longest-serving Republican was convicted in October on seven felony counts of lying on Senate financial disclosure forms by omitting more than $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts.
Holder said "it is in the interest of justice" not to have a new trial. A hearing on his motion to dismiss the case is set for Tuesday in a Washington, D.C., federal court.
Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating the prosecution's conduct.
In February, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan held prosecutors in contempt for not providing documents that could have helped the defense.
Stevens lost his re-election bid to Democrat Mark Begich, who said Wednesday the government's decision was "reasonable."
"I always said I didn't think Sen. Stevens should serve time in jail and hopefully this decision ensures that is the case," Begich said in a statement. "It's time for Sen. Stevens, his family and Alaskans to move on and put this behind us."
Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the mistakes are "inexcusable." Sloan, a former U.S. prosecutor, said the case is "troubling ... because every politician will use this to say they're just being persecuted to get them out of office."
Bruce Udolf, a former U.S. prosecutor in Republican and Democratic administrations, said it is more important that prosecutors "maintain the highest standard of integrity than to prosecute a potentially corrupt politician."
Stevens, 85, who was awaiting sentencing, said in a statement: "I always knew that there would be a day when the cloud that surrounded me would be removed." His attorney, Brendan Sullivan, condemned prosecutors as "hellbent on convicting a United States senator."
Holder's recommendation centered on prosecutors' dealings with star witness Bill Allen, the former head of an Alaskan oil-field service company, who allegedly gave Stevens gifts and free home renovations. New court papers reveal prosecutors did not give the defense notes from a 2008 interview in which Allen estimated the renovations cost $80,000 — not the $250,000 alleged. The notes also say Allen couldn't recall a key discussion with a Stevens friend; at trial, Allen described it vividly.
Stevens narrowly lost his re-election bid to Democrat Mark Begich. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said there is "no question" the conviction cost Stevens and the party an important seat.