Attorney General warns prosecutors after Stevens debacle

July 22, 2009

(UPDATE: clarifies first two paragraphs about Holder talking to prosecutors)

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had some pointed words for prosecutors on Wednesday after the fumbling of the corruption case against former Republican Senator Ted Stevens that the government ultimately had to drop because evidence was withheld from the defense team.

JUSTICEHe warned government lawyers at a conference that the case had threatened to undermine the Justice Department’s credibility for providing defendants all the material against them as required by law.

“Our adversarial system for criminal trials can only result in justice if the discovery process is conducted by the government fairly, ethically, and according to the rule of law,” Holder said at a National Black Prosecutors Association luncheon in Memphis.

He said that the agency was reviewing its compliance and that “we will correct any errors and we will see to it, once again, that justice is our primary goal.”

In October a federal jury found Stevens guilty of seven counts of lying on a Senate disclosure form to conceal $250,000 in gifts and home renovations from an oil executive and other friends.

In one of his first decisions after being confirmed as President Barack Obama’s chief law enforcement officer, Holder ordered the case against the long-time Alaska senator be abandoned after a review showed that prosecutors did not turn over to the defense information that could have helped Stevens’ case.

Stevens was the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate before he lost his seat in the 2008 election — a loss some conservative Republicans have blamed on the prosecution. Democrat Mark Begich won the seat in a narrow victory.

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– Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Holder at a news conference last month)

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