Just because a federal judge dismissed all charges Tuesday against former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens doesn’t mean he’s not a crook.
For that matter, we’re still trying to figure out which of the clowns in the courthouse circus presented by Stevens’ corruption trial is the biggest disgrace: the prominent Republican senator himself, who is loudly trumpeting his vindication despite ample evidence that he accepted expensive gifts without disclosing them as required by law; the federal prosecutors who botched the case against him and committed serious ethical breaches, if not outright crimes, by failing to give evidence to the defense; or one of our least favorite Alaska politicians (and that’s saying something), Gov. Sarah Palin, whose disingenuous calls for a new senatorial election are a transparent ploy to further her own political ambitions.
Last week, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. moved to dismiss the case because new evidence of serious prosecutorial misconduct had emerged. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan not only agreed to do so on Tuesday but took the questionable step of appointing a watchdog to investigate the watchdogs. By the time all this investigating is finished (an internal review by the Justice Department coincides with the external review to be conducted by a Washington attorney), the team that won a conviction against Stevens five months ago might face its own criminal charges. They have plenty to answer for: damaging the credibility of the Justice Department’s political corruption unit, wrecking a strong case against Stevens that might have been won without any cheating, and possibly swaying Alaska’s senatorial race in November.
None of that gives Stevens anything to crow about. Setting aside the testimony tainted by prosecutorial misconduct, trial transcripts paint him as a man who lived lavishly off gifts from his political backers while concealing his allegiance to them. The loss of his long-held Senate seat is a fitting punishment, even if a court-approved sentence would have been more satisfying.
And then there’s Palin. After Holder’s decision last week, she called on Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, who defeated Stevens by fewer than 4,000 votes, to resign so that a new election could be held. Even football games, which are slightly less important than senatorial elections, don’t get replayed after the fact because of a bad call on the field. Palin surely knows that no senator has ever resigned because his opponent got a rotten break during the election. Could she be throwing the GOP faithful some red meat in advance of a 2012 presidential race? Does a gut-shot caribou bleed in the woods?