Some Thoughts on Senator Ted Stevens and the Law

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I don't generally write about Alaska politics. In fact, I have never written about Alaska politics! But this is something that amused me and I wanted to pass it on.

As you may recall, Alaska's geriatric Senator Ted Stevens was convicted last fall of accepting gifts from wealthy business people he had secured legislation for and not reporting those gifts to the Federal Election Commission. In common parlance, that is called bribery. In Washington, it is called an election law violation.

A week later, Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate, lost a close race and ended his political career looking at federal prison sentence.

But this week there was a dramatic turn in the case when Attorney General Eric Holder threw out the conviction, citing gross misconduct on the part of the Justice Department's prosecutorial team. Among other things, they had withheld exculpatory evidence from Stevens' lawyers. Stevens was back in court two days later, claiming that he he had never lost faith in the American legal system and he was now vindicated of the charges against him.

Here's a news flash for the 85-year-old former senator. He was not found innocent of the charges. No one has said he did not take the gifts from powerful associates he had served in Washington. No one said he had failed to report those gifts in accordance with federal election law. All the attorney general said was that the prosecutors screwed up big-time and the conviction could not stand. Stevens got off on a technicality!

And that brings me to a second point. Isn't it Republicans and conservatives like Ted Stevens who are always whining about criminals beating the rap on a technicality and walking away scot-free? That's what happened to the famous rightwing loud-mouth Oliver North in the 1980s. His federal perjury conviction was thrown out and he also left court claiming he was "vindicated." No, North had indeed lied under oath to Congress, but a smart lawyer got him off.

Here's my question to Stevens and North and other sanctimonious rightwing yahoos: If your criminal convictions are overturned on a technicality, shouldn't you demand to serve your sentence on a matter of principle? Shouldn't you? Huh? Huh? Just asking.

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