WASHINGTON — Faced with embarrassing revelations about withheld evidence, the Justice Department on Wednesday moved to reverse the conviction of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who lost his bid for re-election just days after a jury found that he had lied about gifts and home renovations.
Justice Department lawyers asked a judge to dismiss the indictment against Stevens and toss out his conviction — effectively killing their own courtroom victory with a shocking admission of misbehavior by prosecutors.
"I have determined that it is in the interest of justice to dismiss the indictment and not proceed with a new trial," Attorney General Eric Holder said. He said the department must ensure that all cases are "handled fairly and consistent with its commitment to justice."
The prosecutors who handled the trial have been removed from the case, and their conduct is under investigation.
Stevens, 85, is expected to be back in court Tuesday when U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan holds a hearing on the government request. Stevens had appealed his conviction and was awaiting sentencing.
"I always knew that there would be a day when the cloud that surrounded me would be removed," Stevens said in a statement. "That day has finally come. It is unfortunate that an election was affected by proceedings now recognized as unfair."
The Stevens case, the government's highest-profile attack on congressional corruption in recent years, was plagued by problems that continued to pile up even after a jury found him guilty. The last straw, apparently, was the failure of prosecutors to turn over notes of a crucial interview in which a witness contradicted a statement he made later under oath at trial.
Under trial rules, such contradictory statements must be given to the defense team, and they weren't.
Stevens had held the Senate seat since 1968. Alaskans voted by a narrow margin to oust him last November, ending a political career that began before Alaska was granted statehood. When he was defeated, Stevens was the longest-serving Republican senator.