Ted Stevens liked old-style Western movies with clear story lines. The release of more than 800 pages this week that will almost certainly stand as the last words filed on court dockets regarding the criminal case against him results in a product more like Rashomon, the Japanese film in which truth is a plural noun seen in multiple perspectives.
Some Alaskans seem to see the special counsel's report on the misconduct of the original prosecution team as an appeal which Ted Stevens won. That is of course not what the report is. The report is an investigation of why the federal government failed to fulfill its obligations to share ("discover") evidence to the defense in the Ted Stevens case with an eye to figuring out if any individual should be charged with contempt of court for any of those failures.
If the report was instead a decision of an appellate court in the Ted Stevens case, that appellate opinion would have included some discussion of the facts brought out in court that supported the jury verdicts of guilty on seven counts (verdicts that were overturned when the case was dismissed in the wake of the discovery failures). In an appeal of the convictions that the jury verdicts would have turned into if Ted Stevens had ever been sentenced, those facts considered on appeal would have included the many e-mail messages Ted Stevens sent showing his knowledge of the details of the renovations of his home. Those facts also would have included the "Boot Camps"--the one-on-one vacations Ted Stevens took repeatedly over the years with long-time VECO CEO Bill Allen, at least one of which occurred years after Stevens told Allen that the Senator knew that he owed money to VECO for work done on those renovations.
To special counsel Henry Schuelke and his associate William Shields, individual prosecutors intentionally withheld evidence helpful to Ted Stevens while suffering under the problems imposed by a poor management structure and a super-shortened time frame that the government fell into. The report demonstrates that prosecutors clearly did not turn over all the evidence to the defense that they should have. It is particularly striking that Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Bottini, who handled the questioning of Bill Allen, did not advise the defense that Bill Allen had told the government for the first time about the "Ted is just covering his ass" conversation with Bob Persons from 2002 only 17 days before Allen testified about that conversation at the Ted Stevens trial even though Allen had had scores of interviews and debriefings with federal agents before he first brought up the conversation.
To Ted Stevens' defense team, several prosecutors engaged in a criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice. In a 23-page analysis/brief released simultaneously with the special counsel's report, the Washington, D.C. law firm of Williams & Connolly portray the original Ted Stevens prosecutors the same way those prosecutors saw Ted Stevens: evil. And just as the Department of Justice accused Ted Stevens of consorting criminally with Bill Allen, the Ted Stevens defense team accuses the Justice Department of making a corrupt bargain with the devil incarnate--that same Bill Allen. (Ted Stevens' defense attorneys also portray themselves as injured innocents, a picture that is far from the complete truth: Williams & Connolly's lawyers made a series of tactical decisions before and during the trial about how they would handle the issues raised by Bill Allen's sex life and Ted Stevens' Torricelli note that are not reflected in the documents put out Thursday.)
The individual prosecutors whose conduct is scrutinized by the special counsel's report paint a sorry picture of their employer's efforts in the Ted Stevens trial. While admitting that mistakes were made and denying individual culpability--or at least any intent to violate the law--these lawyers point to numerous big errors in judgment and instances of petty bickering by others on their team. Far from the juggernaut that many people see when they are up against the federal government, the Justice Department comes across in some of the filings of "the Stevens Six" as a combination of a fumble factory and an episode of "Days of Our Lives."
There is of course more to come from me on the report and the meaning of this case, and maybe I will get a chance to see Rashomon so that my next reference will be based on actual experience rather than critics' comments. Stay tuned.
Thanks, Howard Weaver, for the memories of when you used to say "Truth is a plural noun" around the offices of the Alaska Advocate.