Beltway Establishment’s Misplaced Orgy Of Stevens Sympathy

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April 2, 2009 9:02 a.m.
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We told you yesterday about Chris Matthews’ flub on the Ted Stevens news — telling viewers that the decision by Justice to drop the charges, thanks to prosecutorial misconduct, means that “the charges should never have been brought.”

But it looks like Matthews was just the tip of the iceberg. Since yesterday morning, the self-appointed guardians of the Beltway discourse, in Congress and the press, have been lining up to express their sympathy for Stevens and lament the way the case has unfairly “besmirched” his sterling reputation.

Please.Before we give you chapter and verse on this self-serving crap, let’s consider what yesterday’s news does and doesn’t mean.

As we noted yesterday, the Justice Department made clear that it was dropping the case because of prosecutorial missteps — specifically, the failure to hand over to defense lawyers a key piece of evidence suggesting that Bill Allen, the main witness for the prosecution, had contradicted himself. This new revelation came on the heels of other instances of misconduct, including one episode in which Judge Emmet Sullivan held government lawyers in contempt for failing to promptly produce documents that he had requested.

Let’s concede that, had defense lawyers had access, for instance, to the evidence about Allen, they could have more effectively challenged his credibility, and perhaps avoided a conviction (though that’s from from clear.)

But even leaving criminal wrongdoing aside, no one disputes that Stevens accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of home renovations and gifts (remember that massage chair?) from a supporter who had a slew of business interests that Stevens was in a position to affect as a powerful federal lawmaker and appropriator. That’s what we call “corrupt”.

As Melanie Sloan of Citiziens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington put it, according to The Hill‘s paraphrase: “Holder’s decision in no way should be viewed as a vindication of Stevens but rather as an indictment of the Justice Department’s inability to do one of its most important jobs.”

So bear that in mind as you read these expressions of sympathy from aggrieved Washington power players rallying around one of their own:

George Stephanopoulos of ABC News (via Twitter): “Whatever your politics, hard not to feel for Ted Stevens.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL): “This incredible man, he served his country well, he was a power player … he took care of Alaska.”

Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT): “We’re delighted that it’s been demonstrated that Ted was telling us the truth all along. (Ed: Needless to say, nothing of the sort was demonstrated.) Obviously, we’re a little disappointed that this didn’t come out before the election….I think he can get his reputation back. I don’t know where he goes to get his legal fees back.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT): “Here’s a guy who gave 60 years of service to this country, and he was screwed [by federal prosecutors] … How does he get his reputation back?”

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ): “That’s why we have the presumption of innocence … I never called for him to step down or resign or anything like that. I think those who did might regret it now.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK): “[I am] deeply disturbed that the government can ruin a man’s career and then say, ‘Never mind.'”

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI): “I didn’t tell him this, but, you know, he’s really suffered … I don’t want to use the word ‘angry,’ but I’m just disappointed that prosecutors were involved in that type of misbehavior … Lawyers’ fees are not cheap. He’ll have to work the rest of his life.”

And let’s also note the roles of the Washington Post, Politico, and The Hill for compiling those quotes and allowing them to stand largely unchallenged, painting an overall portrait of Stevens as an innocent, unfairly victimized by an overzealous government.

Here’s a final thought. An experienced defense lawyer emails to point out that prosecutorial misconduct of the kind revealed in the Stevens case, and worse, happens extremely frequently, and prosecutors generally expect to get away with it. Justice’s decision here may have been the right one, but it would be nice if these guys would show as tender a concern for the fate of poor defendants unfairly convicted despite such misconduct, as they do for their fellow member of the club.

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