WASHINGTON – Government prosecutors admitted Thursday they failed to give Sen. Ted Stevens,on trial for not disclosing gifts from an Alaska oilman,two documents favorable to his defense.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said he no longer has confidence in the government to handle the case properly and ordered prosecutors to turn over witness interviews,grand jury transcripts and other documents to the defense.
Prosecutor Brenda K. Morris said the government's lawyers reported themselves to the Department of Justice's office of Professional Responsibility for blacking out a statement favorable to Stevens on interview forms. Prosecutors realized their mistake Wednesday night,Morris said,and sent the documents to the defense team at 11:30 p.m.
The Alaska Republican is on trial on charges that he broke the law when he failed to list more than $250,000 in gifts and renovations to his Girdwood,Alaska,home on Senate forms.
The government's key witness in the case is Bill Allen,boss of a defunct oil pipeline and services company,and longtime friend of Stevens. Allen's former company,VECO,made the improvements to Stevens' home,but never billed him,and Stevens never disclosed the improvements on Senate ethics forms.
In the statement,Allen told investigators that he believes Stevens would have paid for the renovations if sent a bill. Prosecutors blacked out that remark in documents given to defense lawyers.
Stevens' attorneys argued the case should be dismissed or declared a mistrial because the government should have turned over the information before the trial began. That interview,his attorneys argued,would have altered their opening statement and changed how they cross-examined government witnesses.
Morris responded that the error was minor and that Stevens' defense team had already received stronger statements from Allen saying the same thing.
Sullivan didn't accept the arguments for a dismissal or mistrial,deciding the mistake wasn't serious enough to toss the case. But he did rip prosecutors for initially hiding the key statement,even accidentally.
“How does the court have any confidence that the public integrity section has integrity?” Sullivan said.