News Roundup: DOJ Absolves Stevens Prosecutors

The Justice Department’s investigation of prosecutorial misconduct in the 2008 trial of the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, left, on corruption charges has found no basis for criminal contempt charges against the prosecutors, according to National Public Radio.

Henry Schuelke, a Washington attorney named by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan as special counsel to probe the case, and the Justice Department declined immediate comment after the report Nov. 15 by NPR’s DOJ correspondent Carrie Johnson. The investigation was prompted by Sullivan, who became outraged that veteran prosecutors withheld evidence required to be submitted to the defendant in advance of his trial.

NPR’s Johnson reported further:

Separately, department ethics watchdogs at the Office of Professional Responsibility have completed their own report into alleged prosecutorial failings in the Stevens case. The OPR review took a broader look at problems among the trial team and supervisors.

But the two sources said OPR did not make misconduct findings against William Welch, who led the Justice Department's Public Integrity unit at the time of the trial, or his deputy, Brenda Morris, who joined the Stevens prosecution team only weeks before the trial. Welch and Morris recently appealed to erase a civil contempt finding by Judge Sullivan. That proceeding is pending and could take some time to complete. Another government lawyer, Ed Sullivan, also emerged from the investigation without major trouble. Ed Sullivan took a back seat during the Stevens trial.

Two of the suspects used attorneys from Covington and Burling, the former law firm of both Attorney Gen. Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer, the assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division. The DOJ is often criticized for failing to sanction misconduct in its ranks, and recently exonerated personnel from criminal liability in two other internal investigations involving Bush-era misconduct. One probe was of CIA destruction in 2005 of evidence involving waterboarding of terror suspects. The other was of the unprecedented mid-term DOJ political purges of U.S. attorneys for political reasons in 2006.

The Justice Department has withstood many such criticisms of prosecutorial misconduct by judges, books, newspaper and other research studies. Among such outside investigations was a six-month study published by USA Today Sept. 23 showing that federal judges had found lawbreaking or other misconduct by federal prosecutors in 201 cases since 1997.

Holder, left, declined to answer questions posed by the reporters. However, he wrote as DOJ’s deputy attorney general in 1999 a no-apology rebuttal to a similar investigative series published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette showing that congress and the DOJ provide only lax oversight for the DOJ’s misdeeds. The series by investigative reporter Bill Moushey edited by Bill Martinson was entitled “Win At All Costs.” It alleged:

Hundreds of times during the past 10 years, federal agents and prosecutors have pursued justice by breaking the law. They lied, hid evidence, distorted facts, engaged in cover-ups, paid for perjury and set up innocent people in a relentless effort to win indictments, guilty pleas and convictions, a two-year Post-Gazette investigation found.

Rarely were these federal officials punished for their misconduct. Rarely did they admit their conduct was wrong. New laws and court rulings that encourage federal law enforcement officers to press the boundaries of their power while providing few safeguards against abuse fueled their actions. Victims of this misconduct sometimes lost their jobs, assets and even families. Some remain in prison because prosecutors withheld favorable evidence or allowed fabricated testimony. Some criminals walk free as a reward for conspiring with the government in its effort to deny others their rights.

Holder responded to the paper in 1999:

The series presents an unbalanced view; contains myriad factual errors; often neglects to report that the allegations have been rejected by the courts; and fails to acknowledge that, in the rare cases where misconduct has been found to have occurred, appropriate action has been taken…. Although your reporter spent more than two years researching the series, he discusses fewer than 70 cases dating back more than 13 years. Readers might be interested to know, by comparison, that during the same period federal prosecutors brought approximately 500,000 criminal cases against approximately 750,000 defendants. Even if the facts were as the reporter assumes in each of the nearly 70 cases - and they are not - one could argue that refutes rather than supports his thesis.


In other news, Geraldo Rivera aired criticisms of official 9/11 reports on the Nov. 13 edition of his Fox News cable show the host of Geraldo At Large. For eight minutes, Rivera hosted engineering consultant Tony Szamboti and citizen researcher Bob McIlvaine, whose son died in the 2001 tragedy. They described their suspicions about the cause of the sudden collapse of a “Building No. 7,” which was not hit by an airplane. Szamboti is among numerous engineers and architects signing a petition asserting that a that the building could not have collapsed as it is portrayed on videos as doing in the way official reports describe.

The two guests are affiliated with the “Building What?” campaign seeking new investigations by New York’s City Council, among other official bodies, on the tragedy. Details. Rivera’s decision to host the guests is regarded as gutsy move in journalism circles. Author, former Wall Street Journal associate editor and Reagan assistant treasury secretary Dr. Paul Craig Roberts now says he is virtually banned from mainstream publications because he has raised similar questions.

I claim no expertise on the 9/11 tragedy and only a modest tie with Rivera, whose reports about judicial injustice visited upon former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik anticipated findings more in depth by the Justice Integrity Project.  But whatever the case on “Building No. 7,” it’s news worth mentioning that he would enable such guests airtime.


In a health care case prominent in the Libertarian and free press circles, the U.S. Supreme Court Nov. 15 declined to help an advocate for chronic pain sufferers fight federal subpoenas in Kansas demanding lists of her supporters. According to an Associated Press report in the Kansas City Star:

Siobhan Reynolds, 49 of New Mexico sought to quash grand jury subpoenas and overturn a contempt citation issued against her and her organization, the Pain Relief Network. The federal grand jury in Wichita is investigating her for refusal to turn over subpoenaed e-mails and other documents.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the libertarian groups Institute for Justice and Reason Foundation have argued the subpoenas against Reynolds are government retaliation from federal prosecutors miffed at her criticism of their convictions of  Dr. Stephen Schneider and his wife, Linda, earlier this year. The convictions were for a moneymaking conspiracy linked to 68 overdose deaths at a Kansas clinic. Schneider was sentenced to 30 years in prison. His wife received 33 years.

Reynolds believes a federal crackdown on prescription painkillers has left chronic pain patients needlessly suffering. She paid for a highway billboard sign proclaiming: "Dr. Schneider never killed anyone."  Authorities declined comment.


A federal jury in Washington, DC Nov. 15, convicted lobbyist Kevin Ring on five of eight counts in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal. The guilty charges of conspiracy, fraud and illegal gratuities involved work with fellow lobbyist Abramoff and Ring’s former boss, then-Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA). The jury acquitted Ring of three counts involving an aide to former Rep. Ernest Istook, (R-OK). Abramoff is scheduled to end his four-year sentence in home-confinement next month. The probe has involved 19 public officials, aides or lobbyists accused or convicted.

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