Probe finds prosecutorial misconduct in Ted Stevens' case

— -- An investigation of prosecutors responsible for the botched corruption case against the late Alaska senator Ted Stevens found evidence of "significant, widespread and at times intentional misconduct," but recommended that the prosecutors not face criminal charges.

The findings in a two-and-a-half-year investigation by Washington lawyer Henry Schuelke III were revealed Monday in an order from U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan. Sullivan wrote that the investigation found the Stevens prosecution was "permeated" by the prosecutors' concealment of evidence they collected that could have helped the senator's defense.

Stevens had been accused of violating federal ethics laws by failing to disclose more than $250,000 in gifts and services he had used to renovate his home. He lost re-election to the Senate seat he had held for 40 years and died in a plane crash last year.

The case against the longtime senator collapsed in 2009 after the U.S. Justice Department admitted that government lawyers failed to disclose evidence that could have undermined the case. Flaws in the case were so significant that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asked a federal court in Washington to throw it out even though Stevens had already been found guilty.

Sullivan ordered the criminal investigation, saying at the time that he'd never seen such misconduct in 25 years on the bench.

The outside probe is the first independent accounting of the shortcomings in the case. It concluded that "at least some of the concealment was willful and intentional," Sullivan wrote in the order summarizing the 500-page report.

The Supreme Court has said since 1963 that prosecutors have a constitutional duty to tell defendants about evidence that could help them prove their innocence.

Still, Sullivan wrote that the prosecutors could not be charged with criminal contempt because he had not issued a "clear and unequivocal" order that they "follow the law."

The report by Schuelke found that the case against Stevens was "permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated his defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government's key witness."

It found evidence of misconduct more extensive than what had been revealed before, Sullivan wrote. He did not elaborate.

Sullivan wrote that he will not release Schuelke's full report until the Justice Department and lawyers for Stevens and the prosecutors have an opportunity to review it.

Spokesmen for the department did not respond to requests for comment Monday morning. Holder said at a congressional hearing this month that the department's internal watchdog agency was nearing the end of its own inquiry into the case.