As if it weren’t bad enough that the misconduct of federal prosecutors led to the reversal of a corrupt U.S. senator’s criminal conviction, American taxpayers have been left with the exorbitant cost of defending the government lawyers who botched the case.
Only in government is this level of ineptness so common. The case involves the late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, the longest serving Republican in the U.S. Senate. In 2008 he was convicted of seven felonies for hiding tens of thousands of dollars in gifts—including a major home renovation—from an oil company seeking lucrative government contracts and favorable legislation. That year Stevens made Judicial Watch’s list of Washington’s Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians.
Months after the jury conviction, Attorney General Eric Holder asked the court to reverse it, saying that it could not be supported because of problems with the government’s prosecution. The government’s case seemed rock solid from the start. Before the trial started two oil company executives and a lobbyist—cooperating with federal investigators—had already pleaded guilty to bribery, conspiracy and federal corruption charges. The operators of the huge oil services company called VECO admitted paying nearly half a million dollars in bribes to various Alaska lawmakers.
But lawyers from the Department of Justice (DOJ) eventually admitted they improperly concealed evidence that could have helped the defense but was not turned over as required by law. A court-ordered investigation concluded that prosecutors had engaged in significant, widespread, and intentional misconduct. At one point the DOJ replaced the entire trial team amid allegations of wrongdoing.
Now a mainstream newspaper reports that the government has spent nearly $1.8 million to defend the prosecutors who botched the Stevens case. The paper obtained the information from DOJ records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). U.S. taxpayers are picking up the tab to defend the federal lawyers from allegations that they broke the law involving Stevens, who died in a 2010 plane crash at the age of 86.
The DOJ records show that the agency has paid about $1.6 million since 2009 to private attorneys representing the half-dozen prosecutors targeted by a court investigation into the matter. It also paid $208,000 to defend three prosecutors from a separate finding that they had committed civil contempt of court, the story says.
One U.S. Senator quoted in the article points out that taxpayers are losing twice. “First, the Justice Department committed serious legal errors and ethical missteps in its taxpayer-funded investigation and trial against Sen. Stevens,” said Iowa Chuck Grassley, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “And second, this is an unseemly high amount of money being spent by the taxpayers to defend what appears to be egregious misconduct.”