Outrage: Federal prosecutors who railroaded Ted Stevens escape punishment (updated)

Obamacare would not have passed if Senator Ted Stevens had been re-elected in 2008. But two Alaska federal prosecutors, assistant U.S. attorneys Joseph Bottini and James Goeke, charged him with accepting tens of thousands of dollars of illegal contributions, and obtained a felony conviction on October 27, 2008, just days before the election. The only problem: they had illegally withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense, and the conviction was overturned. But the damage had been done, and the longest-serving Republican in the Senate at the time had been turned out of office, replaced by Democrat Mark Begich, who provided the crucial 60th vote to pass Obamacare.

Yesterday, it was revealed that the two prosecutors would escape punishment for their history-changing misconduct. Zoe Tillman of the National Law Journal reports:

Top U.S. Department of Justice officials violated policy in suspending two prosecutors involved in the botched case against the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, a federal board ruled this month in declaring the discipline invalid.

Justice Department officials in 2012 concluded that assistant U.S. attorneys Joseph Bottini and James Goeke committed professional misconduct and ordered that they be suspended without pay—Bottini for 40 days and Goeke for 15. The prosecutors, accused of withholding information from Stevens’ defense lawyers, challenged the suspensions.

The punishment that was voided was a slap on the wrist, considering the gravity of the injustice done to Senator Stevens and to the integrity of the American political and judicial systems, but thanks to bungling or worse, even that wrist slap is now voided.

An administrative law judge found department officials violated internal policies during the disciplinary process and reversed the suspensions. The Justice Department appealed. The Merit Systems Protection Board, which reviews discipline involving federal employees, on Jan. 2 upheld the judge’s decision.

The three-member panel said the department committed “harmful error” on two fronts: replacing the staff attorney assigned to the ethics case, and replacing him with a member of management. The panel wrote:

“It may seem at first glance to defy common sense not to subject individuals engaged in what was characterized as reckless behavior to disciplinary action, especially when that behavior so publicly compromised the justice system with the consequence of interfering with the electoral process. However, the fact remains that the Department of Justice voluntarily created and adopted a disciplinary process not required by any external law, rule or regulation, and allowed that process to evolve in practice over time. This process can be abandoned or modified prospectively by the agency at will. But once adopted and until modified, we are bound by our controlling courts to enforce it.”

Senator Stevens is unavailable for comment, having died in a plane crash in 2010.But the fruits of his bogus conviction live on I  the form of Obamacare, and now the two men who railroaded him are to escape any punishment at all.

Update, with hat tip to Velma Montoya:

The federal Office of Personnel Management can challenge the Merit System Protection Board's ruling at the DOJ's request.

The Senate Judiciary Committee should ask Loretta Lynch whether she supports a DOJ challenge to the MSPB decision.

I suspect Senator Grassley, Senate Judiciary Chair, would concur.

Hat tip: Clarice Feldman