ANCHORAGE - The Justice Department said Monday it has removed the legal team that prosecuted former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens from further post-trial proceedings that concern allegations of government misconduct.
The terse announcement, made as part of a larger filing by prosecutors, leaves questions unanswered about the scope of the decision. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to elaborate.
The latest turn of events in the increasingly bitter and messy aftermath of Stevens' conviction in October follows the contempt ruling against three Justice Department attorneys last week by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan of the District of Columbia.
Sullivan, who presided over Stevens' trial, cited the lawyers for not following his orders to turn over internal Justice Department files about an FBI whistle-blower to Stevens. Sullivan said he would withhold for the time being a decision about how to punish the government lawyers.
The four-page filing by prosecutors Monday was mainly a public notice that the government had decided to not stand on its claim that the material sought by the defense was protected by attorney work-product privilege, a rule that usually prevents having to turn material over to the other side.
"In deciding to release these materials to the defendant, the government acknowledges the importance of resolving the pending post-trial motions as expeditiously as possible," the prosecution wrote. "By foregoing any further litigation about the release of these documents, it hopes to avoid distractions and remain focused on the post-trial motions defendant has filed - motions that include claims of prosecutorial misconduct before and during his trial."
The filing announced the replacement of the original team of attorneys led by the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section from "litigation relating to allegations of misconduct in this matter." The team is headed by William Welch, chief of that office, and his main deputy, Brenda Morris, who was the lead attorney in the Stevens trial. Also affected are two other lawyers in that office, Nicholas Marsh and Edward Sullivan, and two on special assignment from the U.S. attorney's office in Anchorage, Joe Bottini and James Goeke.
Replacing them will be Paul O'Brien, chief of the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, David Jaffe, deputy chief of the Domestic Security Section, and William Stuckwisch, senior trial attorney in the Fraud Section.
Defense arguments of misconduct figure into several demands for a new trial or dismissal of charges by Stevens' attorneys, mainly involving the allegations of Anchorage FBI agent Chad Joy and a witness in the case, Dave Anderson.
Joy, part of the team investigating political corruption in Alaska since 2004, said the lead agent in the probe grew too close to sources and violated policy then, with prosecutors, worked to prevent Stevens from obtaining favorable evidence before and during the trial. Anderson, the government's final witness, said he gave false testimony about a plea deal he believed he had with the government, and that prosecutors knew it.
The government has denied wrongdoing but hasn't publicly answered the allegations in any detail.
The defense cites other issues in its demand for a new trial that have nothing to do with misconduct by prosecutors, such as a decision by the judge to hold the trial in Washington instead of Alaska, or juror misconduct. It is unclear whether the initial prosecution team will continue to work on those issues, or what will happen if the judge orders a new trial.