Friday, April 03, 2009


Better Off Ted?

There's something in the water up in Alaska, right? No sooner does Attorney General Eric Holder petition the judge in the Ted Stevens graft case to drop all charges against the former Republican senator, than Alaska Republicans call for elected Democrat Mark Begich to resign so there can be a new election! Gov. Sarah Palin didn't quite go so far as to say that Begich should step down, but she certainly entertained the idea of a new election.

Oh, spare us. Let's get this straight: Prosecutorial misconduct brought by a Republican president's Justice Department results in a Republican senator being charged and convicted. But the duly elected Democrat senator should now step down -- after a Democratic attorney general chose to drop the charges? It's gotta be the long nights up there, right?

On the other hand, aside from being the right thing to do, Holder's move was one of the smartest political decisions to come down the pike in a while. The misconduct was pretty blatant: Prosecutors intentionally hid potentially exculpatory testimony from the defense.

The judge nearly declared a mistrial during the trial over similar reasons and held the same prosecutors in contempt for failure to hand over documents to the defense in the appeal process. And, oh, an FBI agent in the case may have been having an affair with a prosecution witness. Lovely.

With that background, it's likely just a formality that Judge Emmet Sullivan will grant Holder's motion next week.

The Alaska Republicans should just STFU. After all, Holder could have held the option to re-file the charges, given that Stevens is, you know, likely guilty of a number of ethical improprieties with respect to refurnishing his house.

But dropping the charges was very smart. First, it makes Holder look compassionate. Stevens is 85 years old, and putting him on trial again would look cruel. Besides, he's suffered the most appropriate punishment for someone charged with abusing the powers of his office: He lost his seat (which he had held for nearly 40 years).

Secondly, the Obama Justice Department looks fair and, yes, bipartisan by going easy on the older Republican. In contrast, the case was brought by the a George W. Bush U.S. Attorney and justice department. That was the same department that has been plagued with accusations of political prosecutions. While the Stevens case can't be considered partisan, it does throw an even greater cloud over the ethical culture of the previous administration.

And does it open the door for Holder to do something similar with former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, who also claims prosecutorial misconduct? Perhaps.

Regardless, Holder -- and, by extension, Obama -- are demonstrating that good policy often makes very good politics.

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