It’s tough to find a silver lining in the DOJ’s decision to drop all charges against convicted bribe-receiver Ted Stevens. Stevens is quite clearly guilty of receiving bribes and, as a U.S. Senator, I think he’s deserving of severe punishment. Public officials who breach the public trust must be made an example of. But the government prosecutors are likewise clearly guilty of withholding evidence that showed that Stevens’ crimes were not nearly as severe as claimed. Prosecutorial misconduct is also deserving of severe punishment, and the appropriate response is to throw out any convictions—fruit of the poisonous tree, after all—and perhaps drop the charges, as well.
Stevens will now escape punishment, and reasonably enough. Whatever his crimes were, they’re trumped by the government’s abuse of its own laws. There’s not much satisfaction to be found in seeing the punishers punished, while the criminal goes free. But if the DoJ’s only Public Integrity lacks integrity itself, that may well be a more serious problem than a senator who’s a bit short on it himself.
So we’ll get our criminal justice system fixed. Then we’ll move on to the senators.