WASHINGTON — A special counsel's report on misconduct in the Justice Department released Thursday paints a picture of a rudderless and sometimes dysfunctional public corruption unit under the man who has since become the face of President Barack Obama's effort to crack down on officials who leak government secrets.
The 525-page report from Washington lawyer Henry F. Schuelke III offers a rare and unflattering glimpse behind the scenes of the 2008 prosecution of then-Sen. Ted Stevens, a criminal case that imploded. The prosecution was supervised by William Welch and, although he is credited with trying to correct many problems, the new report portrays Welch as out of the loop and preoccupied, even as others alerted him and other senior managers to signs of trouble.
The document reopens an embarrassing chapter for the Justice Department, which withheld evidence from Stevens' attorneys so often that Attorney General Eric Holder, in his first months on the job, asked that the senator's conviction be overturned. Stevens, 86, died in a plane crash in Alaska in August 2010.
Special prosecutors heaped much of the blame on lower-level prosecutors. But the report also offers an unusually candid look at Welch, who went on to lead two major investigations that accused officials of the Espionage Act for talking to journalists. Those cases also have been marred by missteps that earned rebuke from judges.
Journalists and open government groups have criticized the Obama administration and Welch for using the Espionage Act, a World War I-era law prohibiting aid to the enemy, against officials suspected of giving secrets to reporters. Those groups describe the officials as whistleblowers, not criminals.