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Stevens conviction unravels for feds

Former Sen. Ted Stevens

Former Sen. Ted Stevens

WASHINGTON – Faced with embarrassing revelations about withheld evidence, the Justice Department on Wednesday moved to reverse the conviction of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who lost his bid for re-election just days after a jury found that he had lied about gifts and home renovations.

Justice Department lawyers asked a judge to dismiss the indictment against Stevens and toss out his conviction, effectively killing their own courtroom victory with a shocking admission of misbehavior by prosecutors.

The case, the government’s highest-profile attack on congressional corruption in recent years, was plagued by problems that piled up even after a jury found him guilty. The last straw, apparently, was the failure of prosecutors to turn over notes of a crucial interview in which a witness contradicted a statement he made later under oath at trial.

“I have determined that it is in the interest of justice to dismiss the indictment and not proceed with a new trial,” Attorney General Eric Holder said. He said the department must ensure that all cases are “handled fairly and consistent with its commitment to justice.”

The prosecutors who handled the trial have been removed from the case and their conduct is under investigation.

Stevens is expected to be back in court Tuesday when U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan holds a hearing on the government request. Stevens had appealed his conviction and had been awaiting sentencing.

“I always knew that there would be a day when the cloud that surrounded me would be removed,” Stevens said in a statement. “That day has finally come. It is unfortunate that an election was affected by proceedings now recognized as unfair.”

Stevens, 85, had held the Senate seat since 1968. Alaskans voted by a narrow margin to oust him in November, ending a political career that began before Alaska was granted statehood. When he was defeated, Stevens was the longest-serving Republican senator.

While reaction in the Senate was muted, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, called the whole episode grossly unfair.

“I am deeply disturbed that the government can ruin a man’s career and then say, ‘Never mind.’ There is nothing that will ever compensate for the loss of his reputation or leadership to the state of Alaska,” Murkowski said.

Noting Stevens’ age, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said, “He’s already been punished enough.”

Stevens was convicted of seven felony counts of lying on Senate financial disclosure forms to conceal hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and home renovations from a wealthy oil contractor.

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