Monday, April 6, 2009

Still Missing the Point on Stevens

I've been a little baffled at the reactions to the news about convicted felon and former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. The way the story is being interpreted in the media--with help from Republican spokespersons--is that "Uncle Ted" was the victim of a political witch hunt by rogue Democratic elements at the Bush Justice Department and that he lost his Senate seat because of baseless accusations. They're basically saying, "This poor old man did nothing wrong and look what happened to him!"

Sarah Palin and the Alaska GOP are even calling for Democratic Sen. Mark Begich to resign and face Stevens in a do-over special election. (Yeah right!) Senator Orin Hatch (R-Utah) is saying that Stevens was "falsely accused."

Let's be clear. There have been no indications whatsoever that the felony charges against Stevens--which led to his conviction by a jury of his peers--were false or that they were politically motivated. What we know is that there was some prosecutorial misconduct, specifically that the prosecution withheld certain evidence from the defense, leading the new Attorney General, Eric Holder, to drop all the charges. 

And (!), the Justice Department says that part of the reason they're dropping the charges is basically that they feel sorry for Stevens because he's old and just lost an election. Along those same lines, in an unintentionally hilarious reaction to the recent news, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) says: 
"Ted Stevens is 85 years old. He's already been punished enough."

The point is, a bungled prosecution (or a prosecution canceled due to pity) is different than a bogus accusation. The prosecution screwed up, ensuring that a corrupt politician will never ever see prison. It's like a murderer who walks because of a procedural technicality. In that sense, the system worked. We take our process seriously, and it's intentionally tilted toward the defendant. But that's still a million miles from saying the politician is not corrupt in the first place or that we should change the rules to try to let him back in office.

I'll close with this pretty good summation by "kg123," a commenter on an article at My commentary is in brackets.
Stevens is 84 and guilty as hell. [He's actually 85 and guilty as hell.] Prosecuters, in their rush to trial, took shortcuts and used less than ethical tactics to get their conviction. [Remember, Stevens demanded an immediate trial.] Now Holder thinks it's a better idea to drop the matter than to waste time and money defending the conviction, as Stevens would probably die before these got thru the legal system again. [I don't know; he seems pretty spry.
Basically, the American Justice system worked. [Except once again a rich and connected person avoids real punishment.] Stevens lost face and status because he was a corrupt politician. The Alaskan people got to see what wrongs their elected officials do. Holder gets a chance to rise above the fray and state that the Justice Department will be held to a higher standard starting right here and right now. [Some reports suggest this was Holder's main motivation.
We all win [unless Sarah Palin's extralegal special election lets Stevens back in the Senate]. Better prosecutions in the future, corrupt politicians are being watched closer than ever, the Alaskan people get better representation, and Stevens gets to live out his last days in a really nicely upgraded house [...$2,700 massage chair included]!


Becky said...

Let Stevens back in the Senate?!? Oh hells no!

I guess, as Shakespeare says, we'll leave [him] to heaven.

Amy said...

So what's going on behind the scenes, I wonder, that made Democrats go so lightly on this one? I understand Holder's decision was legal not political, but you'd think there would be more of a ruckus raised by others.

Nate said...

Here's another take on the whole Steven's fiasco. I still think he's guilty, but it looks like the prosecution definitely screwed up too: