WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawyers for Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska urged a judge Thursday to dismiss the corruption case against him because they said prosecutors had withheld evidence helpful to their defense.
U.S. Justice Department prosecutor Brenda Morris admitted a mistake had been made, but asked the judge to allow the trial to go forward. “We are human and we made an error,” she said. “It was a mistake.”
The information involved an interview by an FBI agent with Bill Allen, the prosecution’s star witness. In the interview, Allen said he believed Stevens and his wife would have paid for the renovations to their home in Alaska if Allen had sent them a bill.
Prosecutors had notified the defense about the information only late Wednesday, after Allen had completed his second day of testimony.
Stevens’s attorney Brendan Sullivan asked the judge to dismiss the indictment. “It goes to the core of the defense,” he said.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan did not immediately rule on the request to throw out the case, but he clearly was angered by the mistake, calling it “unbelievable” and “very troubling.”
The judge sent the jurors home for the day, told both sides to file written briefs about the matter and to come back to court to discuss the matter later Thursday.
Stevens is accused of failing to report on his Senate financial disclosure forms more than $250,000 in gifts from Allen and his company, VECO Corp.
The trial could decide the political fate of Stevens, 84, one of the Senate’s most powerful Republicans, who is seeking re-election in November. If convicted, he likely would be unseated. If acquitted, he could win another six-year term.
Stevens, who has been in the Senate for 40 years and is the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history, faces a close race in what has long been a safe Republican seat. His Democratic opponent is Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.
The disclosure of the mistake represented an embarrassment for the Justice Department in a high-profile public corruption case.
Stevens normally sits expressionless during the trial, but during Thursday’s session he nodded his head vigorously while the judge rebuked the prosecutors.
The judge ordered the prosecutors to turn over to the defense all FBI interviews with witnesses without any redactions.
The new evidence involved an interview that had been turned over to the defense, but the key part of what Allen said — that the couple would pay if they had been sent a bill — had been blacked out.
Editing by David Alexander and Deborah Charles