Clean Bill of Health?


As I wrote yesterday, I think Eric Holder made the right decision, taking all the facts into account, in abandoning the prosecution of now-former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK). But as Zack Roth reports in this new post at TPMMuckraker, we’re now in the midst of an outpouring of tributes to Stevens claiming that the effective dismissal of the case makes Stevens an aggrieved victim and confirms that the prosecution never should have been brought in the first place (see this post for a list of encomiums). In other words, they seem to have mistaken him for Don Siegelman, who’s still looking at a lengthy prison term. I can only think these people are either blinded by affection and insiderism or simply haven’t reviewed the facts of the case.

But let’s remember that none of the misconduct on the prosecutors’ part, which was serious, touched upon or minimized Stevens’ basic bad acts. In the course of advocating for the interests of a major political contributor in his state, Stevens accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of goods and services from that contributor.

Our ethics and corruption laws, in certain areas, are so tight these days that politicians often get tripped up for accepting box seats at sporting events or fancy meals. But what Stevens did is like a textbook case of being on the take. Stevens had Bill Allen hire contractors to take his Alaska home, slice it up off the ground and add a whole new floor to it — in addition to various new goodies and emoluments.

Quite apart from whether the DOJ should refile the charges and even whether the acts can be fit into the criminal statutes, beyond a reasonable doubt, those facts were true and widely reported on long before the charges were ever brought. And the behavior was disgraceful.

It’s always easier to forgive or contextualize or downplay bad behavior when we know the people as actual people rather than names or numbers or two dimensional cardboard cutouts we’re happy to ship off to years or decades of rotting in prison — a fact we should take more deeply into account when we revisit our entire system of criminal justice. But context and forgiveness or just plain mercy isn’t the same as simple denial — which seems to be the order of the day today in our nation’s capital.


Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of