UPDATED 1 p.m.
Justice Department lawyers this morning filed court papers asking a federal judge in the District to dismiss all charges against former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, convicted in October for providing false statements on Senate financial disclosure forms.
In a two-page motion filed this morning, Justice lawyers say they found a previously undisclosed interview with Bill Allen, the government's chief witness against Stevens. Stevens steadfastly maintained his innocence before, during, and after the month-long trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Allen, former owner of VECO, the oil pipeline services company in Alaska, told two prosecutors and federal agents in an April 2008 interview that the fair market value for work at the Stevens home would have been $80,000. Stevens was accused of failing to disclose more than $250,000 in home repairs and gifts from Allen and friends. Stevens' lawyers say he paid for all work for which he received bills. In total, the newly discovered information undercuts Allen's credibility.
"After careful review, I have concluded that certain information should have been provided to the defense for use at trial," Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said in a statement this morning. "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."
Stevens and his lawyers at Williams & Connolly were never told about the April 2008 interview. The FBI did not prepare a memo of the interview, according to the court papers.
Justice lawyers discovered the interview—two prosecutors who participated in the interview took notes—as they dug for information to defend allegations of prosecution misconduct. A status hearing had been set for April 15. The names of the two prosecutors are not identified in court papers.
Justice lawyers Paul O'Brien, David Jaffe, and William Stuckwisch say in the court papers filed today that Stevens deserves a new trial. But the Justice Department has no intent to refile the case "based on the totality of the circumstances and in the interest of justice," according to the Justice lawyers. "Accordingly ... the government moves to set aside the verdict and dismiss the indictment with prejudice," the lawyers wrote.
O'Brien, Jaffe, and Stuckwisch were brought in to the Stevens case earlier this year to litigate post-trial motions alleging prosecution and FBI misconduct in the Stevens case. An FBI agent in December filed a whistleblower complaint alleging an FBI agent had an inappropriate relationship with Bill Allen and that prosecutors attempted to hide exculpatory evidence from Stevens' lawyers.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan scolded the prosecution several times during trial for what he deemed were intentional acts to hide evidence from Stevens' defense, led by Williams & Connolly partner Brendan Sullivan Jr.
Sullivan in February ordered three prosecutors held in contempt for failing to follow two court orders to produce records to the defense. The contempt finding was directed at William Welch II, chief of DOJ's Public Integrity Section; Brenda Morris, principal deputy chief of the section and lead prosecutor in the case; and Patricia Stemler, chief of the Criminal Division’s Appellate Section. Sullivan has not announced how he will sanction the lawyers.
There is an ongoing Office of Professional Responsibility investigation stemming from allegations of prosecution misconduct during and after the trial. Jaffe, O'Brien, and Stuckwisch say in court papers Justice will share the findings of the OPR investigation with the court.
"The Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility will conduct a thorough review of the prosecution of this matter," Holder said in the statement. "This does not mean or imply that any determination has been made about the conduct of those attorneys who handled the investigation and trial of this case."
UPDATE 10:15 a.m.
Stevens' lawyers at Williams & Connolly just issued a statement saying they are "grateful" that the Justice Department is dismissing the case and setting aside the verdict. In a sternly worded three-page letter, the lawyers say the verdict was obtained unlawfully; the lawyers are urging a full accounting of alleged prosecution misdeeds.
"The misconduct of government prosecutors, and one or more FBI agents, was stunning. Not only did the government fail to disclose evidence of innocence, but instead intentionally hid that evidence and created false evidence that they provided to the defense," the Williams & Connolly statement said.
A copy of the full statement is here.
UPDATE 10:40 a.m.
Judge Sullivan plans to hold a hearing in the Stevens case next Tuesday at 10 a.m.
UPDATE 1 p.m.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, applauded Holder in a statement, saying "he is committed to the rule of law, regardless of politics."
"Public confidence in our justice system and in the Department of Justice can only be preserved when prosecutors adhere to the most stringent legal and ethical standards," Leahy said in the statement. "This decision should give all Americans confidence that the Justice Department will pursue public corruption investigations and prosecutions aggressively but fairly."