The long awaited, and much anticipated, DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) Report on the misconduct in the Ted Stevens Prosecution has just been delivered to Congress, and thereafter immediately released to the public by the Senate Judiciary Committee. I know this will shock one and all but, at least as to real results, it is fairly weak tea.
A Justice Department internal investigation of the botched prosecution of Ted Stevens concluded two prosecutors committed reckless professional misconduct and should be sanctioned through forced time off without pay.
DOJ officials recommended Joseph Bottini be suspended without pay for 40 days and James Goeke be suspended for 15 days without pay. DOJ did not find that either prosecutor acted intentionally to violate ethics rules, a finding that is contrary to a parallel criminal investigation. Bottini and Goeke have the option to appeal the misconduct finding to the Merit System Protection Board.
Department officials said Bottini and Goeke failed to disclose information a chief government witness, Bill Allen, provided to investigators and prosecutors at a meeting in 2008, before Stevens was charged. Allen’s credibility was central to the prosecution case that Stevens concealed gifts and other items on U.S. Senate financial disclosure forms.
OPR did not make any professional misconduct findings against any of the other Stevens prosecutors, including William Welch II, Brenda Morris and Edward Sullivan. OPR, however, concluded that Morris, then a supervisor in the Public Integrity Section, exercised poor judgment by failing to supervise “certain aspects of the disclosure process.”
A special counsel who conducted a parallel probe of the Stevens team, after the case was dismissed in April 2009, did not recommend criminal charges against any of the Stevens prosecution team.
However, the lawyer, Henry “Hank” Schuelke III, concluded that Goeke and Bottini committed intentional misconduct in concealing exculpatory information. The two prosecutors dispute that finding.
Yeah, that about sums it up.
Here are all the relevant documents (note: the pdf on the report itself is huge – 672 pages):
A little more than two years ago I wrote about the inherent worthlessness of the OPR at DOJ:
Most governmental agencies have independent Inspectors General which operate independently of the agency leadership, have jurisdiction of the entire agency including legal counsel, and thus have credibility as somewhat neutral and detached evaluators and voices. Not so the DOJ, who has arrogated upon themselves the sole right to sit in judgment of themselves. This action to grab the exclusive authority for themselves and exclude the independent IG was first accomplished by Attorney General Order 1931-94 dated November 8, 1994 subsequently codified into the Code of Federal Regulations and reinforced through section 308 of the 2002 Department of Justice Reauthorization Act. Just in time for the war on terror legal shenanigans!
Go back and read that post again, I am too tired to write it again and nothing has changed. What a load of bunk the Stevens OPR Report is. Some harsh words for sure, but, as to actual accountability – a rap on the knuckles with a foam ruler.
Ted Stevens lost his Senate seat these twits get an unpaid vacation.
The OPR is STILL The Roach Motel.
Apparently the thrill is finally gone, or at least soon to be gone. Carrie Johnson at NPR has just reported:
A federal prosecutor who led the elite public integrity unit when the case against the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens collapsed has told associates he will leave the Justice Department.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department and a representative for Welch had no comment on his departure, which one source said he characterized as a “retirement.”
Welch had been scheduled to lead a controversial prosecution later this year of former CIA official Jeffrey Sterling, who is accused of leaking secrets to New York Times reporter James Risen. That case has drawn widespread media attention because it could set important precedent on the issue of whether reporters enjoy some sort of legal privilege that could help them protect their sources.
This is interesting, actually fascinating news. As Carrie notes the Sterling matter is hanging in the lurch. In fact, it is waiting on an interlocutory appeal decision from the 4th Circuit over claims that the DOJ, once again led by Welch, played fast and loose with critical evidence disclosure. I do not, however, think that the impetus behind this somewhat surprising announcement. The 4th case appears to have completed briefing with the government’s filing of a redacted reply about six weeks ago; however, I don’t think a decision is likely coming that fast and federal appellate courts are not that leaky. Although, to be fair, District and Circuit courts do, occasionally in media intensive cases, give the parties a heads up a decision is coming.
More likely, this is more fallout from the Ted Stevens case and the Schuelke report. In fairness to Welch, he was not one of the hardest hit DOJ attorneys in Schuelke’s report, but he was blistered by Schuelke at Schuelke’s testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in late March:
Schuelke said tight deadlines before the lawmaker’s October 2008 trial and a series of missteps within the Justice Department’s public integrity unit where leaders William Welch and Brenda Morris “abdicated supervisory responsibility” contributed to the evidence sharing lapses. The failings prompted new Attorney General Eric Holder to abandon the case in 2009; Stevens died a year later in a plane crash after he had lost his Senate seat.
The odds are fairly good that the DOJ is putting the finishing touches on its long awaited OPR report on the Stevens fiasco and, after Schuelke, needs a sacrificial lamb. And Welch is a prime candidate to be sacrificed. But that would beg the question of what will they do about Brenda Morris, whose conduct in Stevens was much more egregious and central, as a supervisor, that even that of Welch. And it should not be forgotten that Brenda Morris was also smack dab in the middle of another catastrophic black eye for the DOJ, the Alabama bingo cases. So, there are some real questions for DOJ there.
As to William Welch though, with both the OPR report nearing completion, and the prospect of a House Judiciary inquiry looming later this week, it would seem that Welch’s newfound desire for “retirement” has a bit of a forced edge to it.
One last thing should be kept in mind: the legislation proposed by Lisa Murkowski and having key bi-partisan backing after Stevens and the Schuelke Report, to reform federal evidence disclosure rules for the DOJ. The DOJ is literally, and cravenly, apoplectic about the proposed reform and has promised they have “learned their lesson” and that everybody should just “trust us”.
DOJ had been fighting disclosure reform hard for quite a long time; but there will never be better momentum than is present now, and they know it. Any seasoned criminal defense attorney will confirm that the far more open and reciprocal discovery rules found at the state level in several more enlightened jurisdictions (I can vouch for this in Arizona, which is one of them) work far better than the archaic disclosure rules extant in federal court. It would be a huge benefit to fairness in the criminal justice process, and it IS an attainable goal. And that, too, may be why we are seeing the sacrifice of William Welch.
Earlier this morning, we posted A Primer On Why Schuelke Report Of DOJ Misconduct Is Important that laid out all the legal and procedural background underlying the Schuelke Report into prosecutorial misconduct in the Ted Stevens criminal case.
The full 500 page report has now been released, and is titled:
I wanted to get the post framework and document link up so everybody could read along and digest the report together. Consider this a working thread to put thoughts, key quotes – whatever – into as we chew on the report. Then after having been through it, Marcy and I will; later do smaller stories on specific angles raised.
We know the irreducible minimum found:
The investigation and prosecution of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens were permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated Senator Stevens’s defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government’s key witness
You would think the involved attorneys would be ducking and apologizing for their ethical lapses that terminated the career of the powerful chairman of the Appropriations Committee on the US Senate. You would, of course, be wrong.
The mouthpiece for Brenda Morris, Chuck Rosenburg, is already clucking:
Brenda is a woman of tremendous integrity and an exceptionally talented prosecutor—she was fully honest with the investigators and always hoped that one day this report would be made public so that the facts of her individual role would be known.
Um, no, Ms. Morris does not smell like a rose here Chuck. Edward Sullivan, one of the AUSAs had this statement by his lawyer already this morning:
Mr. Sullivan is a diligent attorney, with strong character and integrity, whose conduct comports with the Department’s highest ethical standards. Mr. Sullivan was rightfully exonerated by Mr. Schuelke and the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, and his vindication is evidenced by the fact that he continues to prosecute cases in the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section
Well, yeah, sure, you betcha Ed Sullivan. I guess that is why as late as yesterday you were personally in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals trying to have the whole matter both stayed and sealed and were arguing you would be harmed if it wasn’t. Today, Edward Sullivan is suddenly a spring flower of purity.
So, yes, all these spring flowers in bloom must be operating off some pretty fertilizer, and the manure is indeed rather deep. So, let us dive in and see what we find. Put your thought, comments and opinions in comment as we work. See you there!
Yesterday morning, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals entered its per curiam order denying a DOJ prosecutor’s motion for stay of the release of the Schuelke Report on prosecutorial misconduct in the Ted Stevens criminal case. As a result, barring unforeseen Supreme Court intervention, later this morning the full 500 page plus Schuelke Report will be released by Judge Emmet Sullivan of the DC District Court. What follows is a recap of the events leading up to this momentous occasion, as well as an explanation of why it is so important.
The existence of rampant prosecutorial misconduct in the Department of Justice case against Alaska Senator Ted Stevens was crystal clear before the jury convicted him in late October 2008 on seven counts of false statements in relation to an ethics investigation of gifts he received while in office. The trial judge, Emmet Sullivan of the District of Columbia District Court, could well have dismissed the case before it ever went to the jury for verdict but, as federal courts of all varieties are wont to do, he gave the DOJ the benefit of the doubt. It, as is all too often the case these days, proved to be a bridge too far for the ethically challenged DOJ.
Within a week of the ill be gotten verdict obtained by the DOJ in the criminal case, Ted Stevens had lost his reelection bid, after serving in the Senate for 40 years (the longest term in history). Before Stevens was sentenced, an FBI agent by the name of Chad Joy filed a whistleblower affidavit alleging even deeper and additional prosecutorial misconduct, and, based on the totality of the misconduct, Judge Emmet Sullivan, on April 7, 2009, upon request by newly sworn in Attorney General Eric Holder, dismissed with prejudice all charges and convictions against Ted Stevens.
But Emmet Sullivan did not stop with mere dismissal, he set out to leave a mark for the outrageous unethical conduct that had stained his courtroom and the prosecution of a sitting United States Senator:
Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, speaking in a slow and deliberate manner that failed to conceal his anger, said that in 25 years on the bench, he had “never seen mishandling and misconduct like what I have seen” by the Justice Department prosecutors who tried the Stevens case.
Judge Sullivan’s lacerating 14-minute speech, focusing on disclosures that prosecutors had improperly withheld evidence in the case, virtually guaranteed reverberations beyond the morning’s dismissal of the verdict that helped end Mr. Stevens’s Senate career.
The judge, who was named to the Federal District Court here by President Bill Clinton, delivered a broad warning about what he said was a “troubling tendency” he had observed among prosecutors to stretch the boundaries of ethics restrictions and conceal evidence to win cases. He named Henry F. Schuelke 3rd, a prominent Washington lawyer, to investigate six career Justice Department prosecutors, including the chief and deputy chief of the Public Integrity Section, an elite unit charged with dealing with official corruption, to see if they should face criminal charges.
On August 9, 2010, Ted Stevens died in a small plane crash in Alaska, never having seen the results of Henry Schuelke’s special prosecutor investigation into the misconduct during the Stevens criminal case. And lo, all these years later, we finally sit on the cusp of seeing the full Schuelke report in all its gory glory.
On November 21, 2011, Judge Sullivan issued a scathing order in relation to his receipt of Henry Schuelke’s full report, and how it would be reviewed and scheduled for release to the public. Actually, scathing is a bit of an understatement. The order makes clear not only is Schuelke’s report far beyond damning, but Judge Sullivan’s level of anger at the misconduct of the DOJ has Continue reading
The DOJ has just announced significant arrests in the long simmering Alabama Bingo case. This is huge news that will shake Alabama politics to the bone like nothing has since the Governor Don Siegelman persecution. From the official DOJ Press Release:
Eleven individuals, including four current Alabama state legislators, three lobbyists, two business owners and one of their employees, and an employee of the Alabama legislature have been charged for their roles in a conspiracy to offer to and to bribe legislators for their votes and influence on proposed legislation, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division and Assistant Director Kevin Perkins of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.
The defendants are charged in an indictment returned by a grand jury on Oct. 1, 2010, in Montgomery, Ala., which was unsealed today. Various defendants are charged with a variety of criminal offenses, including conspiracy, federal program bribery, extortion, money laundering, honest services mail and wire fraud, obstruction of justice and making a false statement. They will make initial appearances today in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama before U.S. Magistrate Judge Terry F. Moorer.
“Today, charges were unsealed against 11 legislators, businessmen, lobbyists and associates who, together, are alleged to have formed a corrupt network whose aim was to buy and sell votes in the Alabama legislature in order to directly benefit the business interests of two defendants, Milton McGregor and Ronald Gilley,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division. “The people of Alabama, like all our citizens, deserve to have representatives who act in the public’s interest, not for their own personal financial gain. Vote-buying, like the kind alleged in this indictment, corrodes the public’s faith in our democratic institutions and cannot go unpunished.”
So, this is pretty interesting timing for this big prosecutorial move, no? It sure is. From today’s report from the excellent Roger Shuler at Legal Schnauzer, who practices in the area and has covered this case from the outset:
The U.S. Justice Department is spinning today’s actions as a legitimate probe focused on corruption connected to gambling legislation. But our sources have been saying for weeks that it is designed to affect the November elections. Polls show Republican Robert Bentley already leading Democrat Ron Sparks in the race for governor, and the arrests could help the GOP take over one or both houses of the Alabama Legislature, a long-stated goal of outgoing governor Bob Riley.
Means and Ross are Democrats, Pruett is a Republican, and Smith is an Independent. That appears to be a relatively bipartisan target list. But there is little doubt that Canary and her prosecutors went after Democrats and others who oppose Gov. Riley and his efforts to shut down gaming in Alabama.
So far, there is no word of an indictment on Sparks. But what does all of this say about the Obama administration? It already had a dreadful record on justice issues. And yet it backs a process where neither Gov. Riley nor any of his conservative backers who opposed gambling were apparently even investigated. We’ve seen no sign of a probe into the $13 million in Mississippi gaming money that reportedly was spent to help get Riley elected in 2002. Canary seems to have focused only on pro-gambling individuals, who tend to be Democrats or Riley critics.
What is this “investigation” all about? It looks like a thinly veiled effort to pay back Riley’s Mississippi gaming supporters–who reportedly laundered money through Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon, and Ralph Reed–by shutting down competition in Alabama.
Yes, very interesting timing indeed. It was not enough that DOJ, Canary and Morris used the specter of investigation to influence an earlier legislative vote on the bingo issue (see here and here), there is now Continue reading
Central to the prosecutorial misconduct directly resulting in the criminal charges against former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens being dismissed was Brenda Morris, the Principal Deputy Chief of the DOJ Public Integrity Section (PIN). The misconduct was so egregious, and the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) so infirm, the trial judge, Emmet Sullivan, appointed a special court investigator to handle a criminal contempt probe.
Has the DOJ itself taken any action in light of the heinous conduct? No, of course not, they never do at the Roach Motel that is the OPR. Instead, the DOJ banished Morris to the Atlanta USA office apparently still as some kind of functioning authority in the Public Integrity (PIN) section. The DOJ is nothing if not consistent, whether under Bush or Obama.
Morris has promptly inserted herself into another high charged political mess, and done so with questionable ethics and curious basis for involvement. From Joe Palazzolo at Main Justice:
Brenda Morris, a veteran trial lawyer in the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, was among a group of federal law enforcement officials who met with Alabama legislators on April 1 to inform them of the probe, which is related to a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would legalize electronic bingo.
The investigation has inflamed tensions between state Democrats and Republican-appointed U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, who prosecuted former Gov. Don Siegelman (D) and whose husband has close ties to Republican Gov. Bob Riley, who strongly opposes the amendment. Canary’s office and the Public Integrity Section are jointly investigating bingo proponents’ quest for votes in support of the amendment, which the Senate passed on March 30.
The state House of Representatives has yet to vote. Alabama Democrats sent a letter to the Lanny Breuer, the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, charging that the “unprecedented” disclosure of the investigation was meant to have a “chilling effect” on state legislators who otherwise might have voted for the amendment.
Here, from the Alabama Press Register, are a few quotes from local Alabama legal experts familiar with the facts and history:
Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney now in private practice in Birmingham, called the private meeting a “virtually unprecedented” break from standard FBI procedures.
“I can’t think of a legitimate law enforcement purpose to do something like this,” said Jones, who represents members of the Alabama Democratic Caucus.
“I have never, in all my years of practicing law, heard of an event like what happened (on Thursday)” said Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. “It was stunning to me.”
Former U.S. Attorney William Kimbrough of Mobile said he’d seen nothing like it in a legal career that spans nearly five decades.
So what in the world was Brenda Morris doing smack dab in the middle of such a contentious political mess and how could the Obama/Holder DOJ think it appropriate? The answer is hard to fathom. Morris was supposed to have been tasked to the Atlanta US Attorney’s office as a litigation attorney while she is being investigated by the court for criminal contempt from her last case. You really have to wonder who is running the asylum at DOJ Main to think that there could ever be positive optics from Morris being involved in anything politically contentious.
You also have to wonder how exactly it is the Obama Administration has seen fit to leave Leura Canary, the Karl Rove acolyte who persecuted Don Siegelman, in office as the US Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. Local blogs are not amused; from Legal Schnauzer:
According to press reports, representatives from the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama played a key role in Thursday’s meeting. Bush appointee Leura Canary, who oversaw the prosecution of former Democratic governor and Bob Riley opponent Don Siegelman, remains in the charge of that office. Alabama’s two Republican U.S. Senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, have scuttled various Obama nominees for the position, and the White House, so far, has chosen not to fight for the two candidates (Michel Nicrosi and Joseph Van Heest) favored by Democrats.
Canary’s lingering presence in office almost certainly is driving the bingo investigation. Angela Tobon, an FBI special agent in Mobile, Alabama, told The Birmingham News that the Public Integrity Section (PIN) of the Justice Department is leading the inquiry. Tobon refused to elaborate when contacted by a reporter from the Montgomery Advertiser.
Does that mean Leura Canary was able to take advantage of a leaderless organization, contacting “loyal Bushies” still embedded in the Justice Department to help get PIN involved in a bogus Alabama operation?
It sure looks that way.
I honestly do not know enough to make the call on the underlying electronic bingo investigation, but the locals sure look to be raising a lot of very good questions about how it is being used to manipulate the local political landscape. Irrespective of the merits of the underlying investigation, leaving tainted authorities, of questionable ethics, like Leura Canary and Brenda Morris to be the face of this unusual and politically charged matter is simply inexcusable.