Good Policy Makes Good Politics in Stevens Case

Obama administration gets it right

On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder petitioned the judge in the Ted Stevens graft case to drop all charges against the former Republican senator from Alaska.

Aside from being the right thing to do, this is one of the smartest political decisions to come down the pike in a while. It was right thing to do because the prosecutorial misconduct seems pretty blatant: The prosecution intentionally hid potentially exculpatory testimony from the defense.

Indeed, the judge nearly declared a mistrial during the trial over similar reasons and held the same  prosecutors in contempt for failure to hand over documents to the defense in the appeal process. And, oh, an FBI agent in the case may have been having an affair with a prosecution witness. Lovely. 

With that background, it's likely just a formality that Judge Emmet Sullivan will grant Holder's motion next week.

That said, Holder could have held the option to re-file the charges, given that Stevens is, you know, likely guilty of a number of ethical improprieties with respect to refurnishing his house. But, dropping the charges is very smart.

First, it makes Holder look compassionate. Stevens is 85 years old, and putting him on trial again would look cruel. Besides, he's suffered the most appropriate punishment for someone charged with abusing the powers of his office: He lost his seat (which he had held for nearly 40 years).

Secondly, the Obama Justice Department looks fair and, yes, bipartisan by going easy on the older Republican. In contrast, the case was brought by the a George W. Bush U.S. Attorney and justice department. That was the same department that has been plagued with accusations of political prosecutions. While the Stevens case can't be considered partisan, it does throw an even greater cloud over the ethical culture of the previous administration. 

And does it open the door for Holder to do something similar with former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, who also claims prosecutorial misconduct?  Perhaps.

Regardless, Holder -- and, by extension, Obama -- are demonstrating that good policy often makes very good politics. 

New York writer Robert A. George blogs at Ragged Thots.  

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