With the passing of former Senator Ted Stevens, we are reminded of how he left office in disgrace — and then the “rest of the story” behind it.
Stevens was convicted of political corruption just before election day 2008, and it’s clear that his conviction was a factor in his defeat. But that conviction was later overturned when it was revealed that prosecutors had engaged in gross misconduct in winning that conviction — they had kept some highly-relevant evidence in Stevens’ favor from the defense, had arranged for a key witness to be unavailable, and that one of the FBI agents involved in the case was boffing a key witness, who also had done some favors for other FBI agents and other key figures in the prosecution. The prosecution’s conduct was so egregious the entire team was tossed off the case, and it was dropped. (Stevens’ age and loss of office was also a factor.)
This reminded me of the Representative Tom DeLay case. The Texas Republican Majority Leader was indicted on campaign finance violations, and was forced to resign. DeLay said that he was the target of a prosecutorial vendetta, and there certainly seems to be some evidence of that — the porsecutor, Ronnie Earle, had two grand juries refuse to indict DeLay, and the third had to violate the Constitution to do so — they accused DeLay of violating a law before it was passed. And five years later, DeLay still has yet to have his day in court.
When it comes to members of Congress, I have a very low standard for believing in their innocence. I’ve often said that accused Congress members should be considered guilty until proven innocent — and, in some cases, punished anyway.
But in Stevens and DeLay’s cases, it seems that their statements that they had been set up and were the victim of some kind of conspiracy seems to have some weight.
My outrage is tempered in this case, though, by the rather unsympathetic nature of the defendants. Stevens and DeLay might not have been quite as corrupt as charged, but both men reveled in their power, and abused the public’s trust.
And I’m not going to make these two cases into some kind of pattern citing unfair prosecutions of Republicans. Former Republican Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham is currently in prison for corruption, and I hope he rots there. Likewise, Louisiana Democrat William “Cold Cash” Jefferson
Clinton is currently appealing his conviction on corruption.
But it certainly worth noting, though, on the occasion of former Senator Stevens’ passing. It’s one thing for me — a nobody from nowhere — to talk about members of Congress as “guilty until proven innocent.” But when prosecutors start acting like that — and doing anything they can, whether or not it’s ethical or even legal — to convict them, then we have some real problems.
As Stevens tried to argue. As DeLay continues to argue.
Perhaps we are all better served with their removal from office. I didn’t care for either man’s actions in office. But the circumstances that led to their removal should give us all pause.
And, perhaps, even get me to reconsider my own standing position on when politicians are charged with corruption.