For the first time since the Department of Justice dismissed corruption charges against former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, Attorney General Eric Holder is taking questions on the topic.
In an exclusive sit-down with CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric airing tonight, the attorney general brushed off claims that his department "dragged its feet" in dealing with the case, but said that Justice officials involved in the botched prosecution won't be fired if a review turns up no wrongdoing.
A key excerpt below:
KATIE COURIC: He suggested that the department has dragged its feet, looking into the misconduct.
ERIC HOLDER: No, I don't think anybody can say that, given the fact that, in this limited time that I've been-- attorney general, I looked at the case, decided that mistakes had been made. And made the determination that the case had to be dismissed, looking at the totality of the circumstances. I've only been-- attorney general for a little over eight weeks now. I don't think that anybody can say that this department has dragged its feet.
KATIE COURIC: You're reportedly close to the lead prosecutor, Brenda Morris, who's under investigation for failing, among other things, to disclose crucial information to defense lawyers in this case. Another target of the investigation is, apparently, William Welch, who's head of the office, ironically, of public integrity. Will you fire either one of them? Will they stay on during the course of these investigations?
ERIC HOLDER: Unless there's some basis for me to decide if they have something wrong-- they'll remain in place.
The Alaska Republican Party and Gov. Sarah Palin have both called on Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) to resign, providing an opportunity for Stevens to, at the very least, run in a special election for his old seat.
In a recent editorial, the New York Times praised Holder's handling of the Stevens case, describing it as a decisive break from the partisanship of the Bush era:
Mr. Holder, whose department is continuing to investigate the Stevens prosecution, now needs to determine whether the prosecutors’ conduct was so egregious that they should face their own ethics charges.
He should not stop with this case. Don Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama, and Paul Minor, a prominent Mississippi trial lawyer, have charged that Justice Department prosecutors engaged in unethical behavior in cases that led to their convictions. Both men claim that they were singled out for prosecution because of their affiliation with the Democratic Party.
Given the flagrant partisanship of the Bush Justice Department, it is especially reassuring to see Mr. Holder ignore party lines to do the right thing by Mr. Stevens. It has been far too long since the attorney general seemed interested in enforcing ethics and nonpartisanship in a department that has been shockingly lacking in both.
Part two of Couric's interview airs Wednesday night on the "CBS Evening News." Topics include Mexico, gun control, Guantanamo Bay, and Dick Cheney's recent comments.