Buried in the news about charges against Ted Stevens being dropped, there’s an additional serious indictment (as if more were needed) of the Bush Justice Department — and specifically, of Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
Reporting from yesterday’s hearing, at which Judge Emmet Sullivan formally announced that the charges would be dropped, the Washington Post notes:
When the judge heard that Stevens’s attorneys sent three letters about prosecutorial misconduct to former Attorney General Michael Mukasey but received no response, he called it “shocking — but not surprising.”
Now that the judge is seeking contempt charges against the government prosecutors on the case, it’s worth looking a bit more closely at what happened here.
In fairness, the misconduct that ultimately convinced Mukasey’s successor as Attorney General, Eric Holder, to ask that the charges be dropped only came to light recently, so it wasn’t included in the letters to Mukasey (though that itself hardly reflects well on the department.) Nonetheless, it’s clear that at least one of the letters contained a slew of serious charges of prosecutorial misconduct.
On October 28, 2008, Stevens’ lawyer Brendan Sullivan (no relation to the judge, of course), sent a 16-page letter to Mukasey which called the government misconduct in the case “repeated, severe, intentional, and inexcusable.” (The letter was released publicly at the time.)
Brendan Sullivan alleged, among other things, that the prosecution had knowingly presented false evidence to the jury; that it had intentionally concealed exculpatory information; and that it had fabricated testimony from its star witness, Bill Allen.
The letter included courtroom pronouncements from the judge, agreeing with many of these allegations. In one case quoted in the letter, Judge Sullivan declared: “We’re talking about the United States using documents that the government knows are false, not true.” In another case — referring to Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court decision that prosecutors must turn over key evidence — Judge Sullivan said: “This is Brady material … It’s difficult for the Court to believe that the government overlooked this exculpatory information.”
The letter called on Mukasey to initiate an immediate probe of the allegations, and to take the prosecutors off the case.
None of this is to say that Mukasey erred by not doing everything that Stevens’ lawyers were requesting. These were only allegations, after all, despite the judge’s apparent agreement with many of them. But one would think that the letter at least merited a response from Mukasey (and that’s leaving aside the two other letters that the defense team sent). Judge Sullivan certainly seems to think so.
Of course, Mukasey’s apparent lack of interest in these allegations of misconduct by prosecutors runs counter to the Bush DOJ’s reputation for putting narrow partisan politics above principle, since Stevens is a Republican. But it suggests a different failure, that’s also of a piece with the Bush years: an unwillingness to absorb a temporary PR hit by admitting mistakes, even when the merits of the case require it.
Mukasey didn’t respond to a request for comment from the New York Times, which also noted Judge Sullivan’s criticisms of the former AG yesterday. If Mukasey or his camp do respond, we’ll keep you posted as usual.