Sen. Stevens – One: Public Interest – Zero

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U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens’  trial for corruption has gone before a jury for deliberations. Federal prosecutors accuse the long-serving lawmaker of lying on Senate forms to conceal more than $250,000 in renovations on his home in Alaska and other gifts from a former chief of an oil services company. But it appears as if Stevens’ defense lawyers have secured a key victory by convincing the judge to frame a key question in his favor.

Earlier this month, our friends at Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) wrote that every charge brought against the Senator relates to his failure to disclose gifts and debts on his Senate financial disclosure form. It’s critical to the public’s right to know “where and from whom our public servants receive gifts, loans, and payments,” as TCS wrote. “The government, in its opening statement and throughout the trial, has maintained that the public right to know is an important element in this case and that Stevens’ failure to disclose was a breach of this right.”

As I wrote about 10 days ago, TCS reported that Stevens’ defense attorneys argued that the public’s right to know is not relevant since the prosecution’s charges fall under the False Statements Act, which carries criminal penalties but applies only to statements made to government.  They argued that these laws deal only with disclosure to the Senate. The defense said that prosecutors could press the public right to know provision under the Ethics in Government Act, which carries only civil penalty.

Yesterday, prior to jury deliberations, the judge issued them 73 instructions, which TCS has posted. In “Instruction No. 65” the judge sided with the defense in writing, “You have heard reference during the trial to public interest in disclosure. Senator Stevens is charged with making false statements to the government, not to the public, and public disclosure is not an element of the charges in this case.”

Federal prosecutors argued in a brief that the “public interest in the information contained in defendant’s public financial disclosure forms is directly relevant to the defendant’s motive and intent, and to the element of materiality, and there is no danger of prejudice to the defendant.” Their main two points: 1) Stevens’ concealment of information from the public is relevant and proper evidence of his intent and motive to conceal material facts; and 2) references to the “public interest” does not unfairly prejudice the case against the defendant. “The government has properly emphasized that the law requires public transparency for the reason that the Congress intended for the general public to scrutinize the reports in light of other information, and to provide for the opportunity to bring that information to the attention of the proper authorities,” the brief says.

It’s outrageous that the judge would cripple the prosecution’s case by disregarding the public interest of all things.

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  • While we’ve already passed the point of determining whether the judge was crippling the prosecution, Stevens has been convicted, it is worth noting that the judge was, in fact, simply addressing the scope of the False Statements Act.

    “Public” disclosures (ie: disclosures to the public) cannot be prosecuted under the False Statements Act. Instead, only false statements made in disclosures to the government – in this case to the United States Senate – can be prosecuted. As the judge and the defense said, were the prosecution to bring charges under the Ethics in Government Act, which supposes public disclosure, there would be no criminal penalty, only a civil penalty.

    So, Dem02020 is correct that the acceptance of the disclosures as “public” would harm the prosecution’s case. (Although you don’t need to insult. Be nice.)

    We always want information to be considered as public information, however the law does not always allow for the consideration of information as such. In this case, it was right for the judge to consider the information as solely a disclosure to government and not to the “public”. Anything else would have undermined the prosecution’s case.

  • Dem02020

    Screw you.

    It was a sincere question.

    I’d rather see Sen. Stevens’ burnt at the stake, than see him skip free from his obvious criminal guilt…

    But if the strange and stretching perception of “public” versus “government” is more important to…

    SCREW YOU

    You work against us…

  • Dem02020

    IN wishing to understand the distinction being made here, I retype what seems to be the aggravating assertion by the Judge, Instruction No. 65, which is:

    “Senator Stevens is charged with making false statements to the government, not to the public, and public disclosure is not an element of the charges in this case.”

    And above it is said that that Instruction 65 “sided with the defense.”

    I’m not in any way taking the side of the defense, but truly, I don’t understand the distinction being made here.

    Take the apparent opposite or compliment of Instruction 65, and make it:

    “Senator Stevens is charged with making false statements to the PUBLIC, not to the government, and public disclosure IS an element of the charges in this case.”

    Make that a true assertion in the case, and an instruction to the jury.

    This is my question:

    What different or other fact of what Sen. Stevens did, comes into play in that different context (of a failure to inform the PUBLIC, as opposed to the Senate-government)?

    What different or other injury is being alleged, by the PUBLIC versus government context of the charge (and why did the prosecution seek the one and not the other)?

    What different penalties apply?

    Truly, I want the old goat more than convicted of failing to disclose to the Senate-government these many “things of value” VECO bribed him with: I want him put in a Federal penitentiary.

    But what is the point of making this PUBLIC versus government distinction?

    What new fact is brought into play, or old fact dismissed?

    What new charge is made (and why wasn’t it made in the first place)?

    What new and different penalty is inflicted on the old goat?

    Truly, I don’t get the importance of the distinction being made here.