The Justice Department lawyers who prosecuted Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) will not face criminal contempt charges for failing to share evidence that could have helped his defense team, a federal judge said Monday.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan and the special prosecutor he appointed, Washington lawyer Henry Schuelke, had tough words for the Justice Department, though.
Sullivan wrote in an order that the government's lapses in evidence-sharing during the Stevens corruption trial "permeated the proceedings before this court to a degree and extent that this court had not seen in twenty-five years on the bench."
And Schuelke, who spent two years to review 150,000 pages of documents and conduct 12 depositions of many of the key players, found that "at least some of the concealment was willful and intentional," including episodes that have not yet become public, according to the judge's order. But Schuelke declined to recommend the Justice Department lawyers themselves face criminal charges because in order to prove that they engaged in contempt, they must have disobeyed a clear and specific order from the court. The judge wrote that Schuelke offered "no opinion" as to whether the lawyers might have been open to prosecution under federal laws prohibiting obstruction of justice.
Stevens was convicted of making false statements and related charges after a five-week trial in 2008. While Stevens was appealing the decision, U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder took the extraordinary step of abandoning the case a year later, after evidence surfaced that the Justice Department team withheld documents from Stevens' defense that would have helped the former lawmaker poke holes in the account of the key witness against him.
Schuelke has prepared a scathing 500-page report of findings, which the judge said he would like to make public after the Justice Department has a chance to review it and offer any objections.
NPR first reported last year that the case, according to sources, would end without criminal prosecution.
Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney says department officials are "reviewing the order."
Schuelke declined comment.
Stevens, 86, died in the August 2010 of a small plane while on a fishing trip in his home state.