Judge Goes After Stevens Prosecutors

Posted January 14, 2009 at 6:18pm

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan on Wednesday lambasted federal prosecutors for failing to reveal that an FBI agent was denied whistle-blower status after alleging misconduct by his fellow investigators in the case against ex-Sen. Ted Stevens’ (R-Alaska).

[IMGCAP(1)]Sullivan demanded an explanation — signed by Attorney General Michael Mukasey — of the prosecutors’ actions.

“I want a declaration from the attorney general,” Sullivan railed from the bench, setting a Friday deadline for the documents. “I want to know what your office knew and when it knew it.”

The Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section chief, Bill Welch, informed the court Wednesday that the FBI agent who filed the complaint would not receive whistle-blower status under a decision finalized in early December by the Office of the Inspector General.

That revelation prompted Sullivan’s apparent ire.

The judge criticized prosecutors, noting that the court spent significant time in late December reviewing and redacting the complaint under the assumption that the FBI agent could qualify for whistle-blower protections.

“I find it incomprehensible,” Sullivan said, later adding, “I want a paper trail … and an information trail.”

Government attorney Brenda Morris denied any wrongdoing by the government, asserting that although a decision may have been made about the FBI agent’s status, the prosecutor’s office was not immediately informed.

“They were not communicating to us,” Morris said.

The Wednesday incident was the latest in a series of criticisms that Sullivan has lobbed at federal prosecutors. During the October trial, the judge on several occasions chastised the prosecution for failing to turn over evidence to the defense and the prosecution apologized for making mistakes in handling evidence.

In the meantime, Sullivan also ordered federal prosecutors to identify the FBI agent and approved a request by prosecutors to reveal the identities of other federal employees named in the complaint.

During the hearing, Morris then proceeded to unintentionally identify the FBI agent in open court, rather than in court filings as expected.

Morris repeated the name “Agent Joy” several times in an explanation to the court — an apparent reference to agent Chad Joy of the FBI’s office in Anchorage, Alaska — before clasping her hand to her mouth.

Joy, who helped build the government’s case against Stevens, filed the complaint in early December, asserting misconduct by federal employees dealing with witnesses and handling evidence. The court released a heavily redacted version of the document Dec. 22.

Based on that document, Stevens’ attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the case or grant a new trial. The motion was the latest in a series of attempts by the Alaskan’s defense team to dismiss the case or acquit the former lawmaker.

Sullivan agreed to allow Stevens’ attorneys to reissue their latest motion based on the unredacted complaint and set a Jan. 26 due date.

A federal jury found Stevens guilty in late October on seven counts of filing false financial statements to conceal the receipt of more than $250,000 in gifts. Stevens, who has denied wrongdoing, was narrowly defeated in his re-election bid in November.

Stevens has yet to be sentenced.