If the U.S. Justice Department withheld evidence in the corruption trials of Pete Kott and Vic Kohring, then justice itself demands that the former state lawmakers be given back their freedom for the time being. That's playing out now in federal courts, as it should.
Also playing in the minds of many Alaskans, though, are the video and audio tapes of Kott and Kohring in Room 604 of Juneau's Baranof Hotel. These former representatives eventually might be found innocent in the legal world. In the real world, all the evidence that matters was on those tapes.
No matter how much information the prosecution withheld, its disclosure will never erase the image of VECO Corp. owner Bill Allen handing a wad of cash to Kohring.
Even if that transaction was just one old friend helping out another, with no expectation of any favor in return, it cannot be viewed as acceptable behavior.
Outside that hotel room, just a few blocks up the hill in the state Capitol building, a monumental public policy debate about oil taxes was consuming the Legislature. Kohring and Kott were two of 60 decision-makers in that debate. Allen was the politically active owner of Alaska's largest oilfield services company.
Kohring and Kott might have agreed with Allen on the basic issues, regardless of whether they received any money from him. In fact, it's a good bet they would have, given their political instincts.
But their instincts also should have told them that, as elected representatives, they should not take undisclosed cash for their personal use - from Bill Allen or anyone else. People might "misinterpret" what was going on, to put it in the most charitable of terms.
Kohring and Kott, in fact, did argue that their actions were misinterpreted by federal prosecutors. Their juries, however, were not convinced. Whether those juries might have changed their minds, had all the evidence been laid before them, is an interesting question.
That evidence isn't likely to change the ex-lawmakers' reputations in the minds of Alaskans, though. We've seen enough.