Trying to spin Ted Stevens as a wrongfully accused innocent, who should never have been charged and tried for the crimes that he is alleged to have committed, would appear to be a thoroughly idiotic notion. Which must be why the Republican machine has embraced it with both arms, and kissed it on the cheek.
First, let’s go ahead and get it officially notarized that it is indeed a thoroughly idiotic notion. For that we need only bring on Chris Matthews, of MSNBC fame (and, truth be told, MSNBC shame):
Just now, the MSNBC anchor, opining on the news that DOJ is dropping the charges in the Ted Stevens case, declared that the decision means “the charges should never have been brought, there should never have been a prosecution.”
In my book, if Chris Matthews said it, usually that pretty much certifies that it lies somewhere between balderdash and baloney. And that certainly seems to be true in this case.
But TPM‘s Zachary Roth — who they seem to be very proud of and all, over at TPM — views such nonsense from Matthews with amused tolerance, much like a doting uncle:
Chris Matthews says a lot of things. So it’s to be expected that sometimes they’re smart and insightful, and sometimes they’re embarrassingly wrong.
That principle would pretty much let anyone in the media off the hook for the most egregiously stupid garbage.
And where does one stop?
We interrogated a lot of prisoners after 9/11. So it’s to be expected that some of the interrogations were lawful and Geneva-convention-abiding, and some of them crossed the line into torture, and some even resulted in wrongful death?
Politicians do a lot of things. So it’s to be expected that sometimes they’re honest actions that are good for the country, and sometimes they cross the line into criminality? (And Ted Stevens is not the only Republican politician I’m thinking of when I say that; he’s not even near the top of the list. Money-grubbing, as a crime or a political sin, pales before what Bush and Cheney are responsible for and guilty of. In the same way as petty larceny gets trumped by aggravated rape or murder in the first degree.)
Bloggers, for that matter, write a lot of things. TPM‘s Zachary Roth, for example. But you can see where I’m going with that. And I’m smack-dab in the middle of a long digression. So let me make that middle the end, and get back to the main theme.
Chris Matthews seems to have some befuddled notion that, when it comes to innocence and guilt, defendants and prosecutors have some kind of zero-sum game going on. His logic, for lack of a better word, seems to be that if prosecutors are guilty of something, then the defendant is innocent of everything. Because that’s the only way you get from the prosecutorial misconduct in the Ted Stevens case to the conclusion that Stevens was so obviously innocent that he should never even have been charged.
For anybody who has an IQ exceeding their age, the charges against Ted Stevens were dismissed for reasons that simply don’t speak to the merits of the case against him. Therefore, the fact of the dismissal cannot be used to argue that Stevens was, in any meaningful sense, exonerated of the charges.
Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (that’s CREW to you) put it simply enough:
Furthermore, she stressed, Holder’s decision in no way should be viewed as a vindication of Stevens but rather as an indictment of the Justice Department’s inability to do one of its most important jobs.
Chris Matthews, of course, is not the only person to declare that Ted Stevens now stands proven to be as pure as the driven snow. But people like Orrin Hatch perhaps can be forgiven for statements like:
Here’s a guy who gave 60 years of service to this country, and he was screwed [by federal prosecutors] … How does he get his reputation back?
Hatch, after all, sees it as his job (see “partisan hack”) to put out statements like that, regardless of considerations like truth or honesty.
But let’s not only set the record straight, let’s also clear up the concept of “getting screwed by federal prosecutors”.
Don Siegelman was screwed by federal prosecutors. Forty-four former Attorneys General signed a document to that effect.
Ted Stevens, on the other hand, was — if you’ll pardon the word, though it seems perfectly appropriate in context — unscrewed. This guy, who had “headed straight for the slammer” written all over him for months, miraculously escaped that fate due to the misconduct of said federal prosecutors. They didn’t screw him, they saved his ruddy skin.
The NYT drove home the point over the weekend:
When a federal trial judge tossed out the ethics conviction of former Senator Ted Stevens last week, his lawyers promulgated the story of an innocent man victimized by unscrupulous prosecutors.
But the five-week trial of Mr. Stevens offered a different version of him, and only a discrete part of that was directly affected by the discovery of repeated instances of prosecutorial misconduct.
The disclosures that prosecutors had withheld information from the defense did little to erase much of the evidence that Mr. Stevens, who had been a powerful and admired political figure in Alaska, regularly and willingly accepted valuable gifts from friends and favor-seekers that he did not report.
The reasons for the dismissal of the case do not, for example, have any bearing on undisputed testimony that a Stevens friend, Bob Persons, bought an expensive massage chair for the senator and had it delivered to his Washington home. When Mr. Stevens told Mr. Persons he could not accept the chair as a gift because of ethics restrictions, they both then agreed to deem the chair a loan.
Frankly, I’m shocked! The loan subterfuge is not worthy of Ted Stevens. If he took any pride in his work, he would have a written agreement whereby he agreed to store the massage chair for Bob Persons for a small monthly fee (with an extra honorarium, perhaps, for agreeing to test it regularly to ensure that it was still in good working condition).
That’s how I would have done it, and I don’t even have a criminal mind.
(That chair, by the way, has been on loan now for going on seven years.)
Chris Matthews may not get it, and Orrin Hatch may not get it, but the Ted Stevens case jurors certainly did, and they were the only ones actually entrusted with doing so.
In fact, two jurors have said that the dismissal of the case because of the prosecutors’ actions did not make Mr. Stevens innocent in their view.
Brian Kirst, an alternate juror in the trial, said the prosecutors’ problems had nothing to do with much of the testimony that mattered to him. “I mean he had the chair,” said Mr. Kirst, a professional photographer.
He said he was strongly leaning toward conviction — though he did not participate in the verdict because he was randomly deemed an alternate — because he believed that the defense had done little to rebut the basic accusations that Mr. Stevens had been given lots of gifts and never reported them.
Colleen Walsh, one of the jurors who convicted Mr. Stevens, said on her personal blog of the trial’s collapse, “The only thing this proves is that the prosecution messed everything up.”