Murkowski Questions Amount Of Money Spent Defending Stevens Prosecutors

Senator Lisa Murkowski

Senator Lisa Murkowski today questioned Attorney General Eric Holder about money being spent to defend Justice Department prosecutors who are protesting the release of a report detailing mishandling of the prosecution of the late Senator Ted Stevens. One of those prosecutors has asked an appeals court for an emergency stay to prevent the release. Murkowski quizzed Holder before the Senate appropriations subcommittee on Commerce, Science and Justice. She asked Holder if tax payer money was being used to defend the prosecutors as they fight the public release of the report.

“ So the question is whether you support the merits of that appeal and again whether or not the tax payers are on the hook to pay for his attorneys to argue that this report should be kept from the public.” HOLDER—“I don’t think we take any position in regard to what he has said about his desire to keep the report sealed. But we, the Justice department do not object to the release of the report. I think given the issues that we found there, the magnitude of the case and frankly the magnitude of the errors that led me to decide to dismiss the case, that there is a legitimate public interest in knowing as much as we can about what happened, why it happened, what steps the justice department has taken in connection with these findings of misconduct.”

Holder dismissed the conviction against Stevens because of the misconduct by prosecutors. Judge Emmett Sullivan, who presided over the Stevens trial appointed an independent investigator to examine the case after it came to light that prosecutors had withheld evidence from Stevens’ attorneys. The independent investigator found “significant and intentional misconduct.” The prosecutors asked Judge Sullivan to seal the report, but the judge said it’s important for the public to know what happened.

Following Holder’s response Murkowski pressed Holder about whether the Justice department was paying for the prosecutor’s challenge to releasing the report. Holder said it would have been a conflict of interest for the department to defend them.

“Which would be typically how we would do it, and they were therefore allowed to get outside counsel and under the regulations the justice department pays for those legal representations which has happened in a variety of cases, a variety of circumstances, former attorneys general have had lawyers who have been reimbursed by the government.” MURKOWKSI—“So even though the independent counsel that Judge Sullivan appointed, even though that counsel found that members of the Stevens prosecution had engaged in significant, widespread and at times intentional and again intentional misconduct. Does the government have any recourse to recover the funds that have been paid for their attorneys fees?”

Senator Murkowski said $1.8 million had been spent on their defense, calling the amount stunning.  Murkowski added she was troubled the prosecutors were still employed at the Justice department. Holder responded that because the prosecutors had their own views about what happened, they wanted to defend themselves, saying that was why the government hired outside counsel for them.

Murkowski then thanked subcommittee chairwoman Barbara Mikulski for allowing her to take so much time. Mikulski a Democrat from Maryland responded the questioning was important and the issue troubling.

“We must have public integrity, we also must have an independent judiciary, we have to have regardless of which party is in the White House a Justice department that we believe in and that the American people believe in.”

Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison had also questioned Holder. She said the Attorney General took a big step in dismissing the case.

“That was huge, but now we must follow up so there is no question that the people who did this and the report will show whatever it shows, that they’re not able to prosecute ever again, ever.”

If the report is not held up by the appeal, it will be released next Wednesday, March 15th.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 18 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications with veteran Alaskan broadcasters Nellie Moore, D’Anne Hamilton, Len Anderson, Sharon McConnell and Veronica Iya. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori