April 1, 2009— -- The Justice Department has asked a judge to drop its corruption case against former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens because of missteps by the prosecution, Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday.
The action is extremely rare, as this mea culpa by the government comes after prosecutors had already won a conviction in the high-profile case.
"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. "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."
A federal jury in Washington convicted the then-lawmaker, 85, on corruption charges last October, just days before Stevens lost a reelection bid. The prosecution charged that Stevens lied on his Senate financial disclosure forms, in effect concealing $250,000 worth of gifts and home renovations from a wealthy oilman, Bill Allen, and his oil services company, Veco.
Stevens, who was appointed to the Senate in 1968 and elected in 1970, is the longest-serving Republican senator. He has been awaiting sentencing as his defense team appealed the verdict.
Defense lawyers had throughout the trial accused the prosecution of misconduct, including withholding evidence, and the judge presiding over the trial had repeatedly admonished the government team.
One of the key allegations is that prosecutors might have tried to make certain that a witness who would have been useful to the defense never testified. A whistleblower at the FBI supported the defense claim in a complaint filed in December.
And there have been other explosive allegations since the trial ended, including that the lead FBI agent on the case might have a had inappropriate relationship with Allen, the government's star witness, and that the agent was allegedly telling potential witnesses about grand jury information before trial.