Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s last few days in office just got a little more difficult.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan this afternoon ordered Mukasey to prepare a declaration, with his signature, that addresses questions about how the government handled the whistleblower complaint filed last month in the Ted Stevens case.
Sullivan gave a deadline of noon Friday, leaving prosecutors and a throng of reporters stunned at the afternoon hearing in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “This is the most important thing on his desk right now,” Sullivan declared. “I want the declaration of the attorney general before he leaves office.”
The judge appeared furious, angrily pointing his finger and raising his voice as he pressed two top-level prosecutors, William Welch and Brenda Morris, for answers about how the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section handled the whistleblower complaint and when the section knew that the complainant had been denied whistleblower protection. Welch is the chief of the Public Integrity Section; Morris, who led the Stevens prosecution team, is principal deputy chief.
The whistleblower complaint, filed by an FBI special agent, alleges the prosecution team intentionally withheld evidence from Stevens's lawyers. Sullivan last month released a redacted version of the complaint.
Sullivan (pictured at left) had set the hearing to address an issue about redactions in the complaint. Welch and Morris asked that certain redactions be lifted—a reversal of the government’s initial position that the complaint be sealed entirely. The hearing went smoothly until the end when Sullivan asked when the government found out that the complainant had been denied whistleblower protection.
Sullivan chastised the prosecutors, saying the government had an obligation to tell him that the whistleblower had been denied protection. The judge said that knowing the man had been denied protection would have compelled him to handle the complaint in a different manner. Sullivan did not elaborate from the bench.
Morris said the Office of Professional Responsibility handled the whistleblower’s complaint and indicated there is no free-flowing sharing of information between OPR and the Public Integrity Section. Sullivan demanded the government provide him a paper and information trail.
The judge said he finds it “astounding” that the Public Integrity Section was unaware the agent had been denied protection prior to a closed-door hearing last month in which the judge, prosecutors, and Stevens’ lawyers talked about how to handle the complaint. “I want to know what your office knew and when they knew it,” Sullivan said.
Stevens’ defense lawyers, including Brendan Sullivan Jr. of Williams & Connolly, have incorporated the whistleblower complaint in a motion to dismiss the indictment. A hearing is scheduled for next month. Stevens was convicted in October on seven counts of filing false Senate financial disclosure forms. Stevens, who lost his Senate seat, was not in court this afternoon.
UPDATE (5:23 p.m.): Here's the text of Judge Sullivan's order directed to Attorney General Michael Mukasey:
"ORDER as to THEODORE STEVENS directing that Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey personally sign a declaration under oath to be filed by no later than 12:00 p.m. on Friday, January 16, 2009, and provide copies of all relevant correspondence, detailing precisely (1) who within every office of the Department of Justice knew about the complaint filed by Agent Joy, (2) what those individuals and offices knew, and (3) when those individuals and offices received the relevant information."