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The day after Memorial Day, we learned that Missouri Governor Eric Greitens has stepped down “[a]fter months fighting a growing sex and corruption scandal, and his own party leaders calling for his resignation.” This news, and the reporting around it, should be treated with some skepticism. As a reminder, Senator Ted Stevens was falsely prosecuted and convicted, with Senator McCain and Governor Palin demanding his resignation, a week before the 2008 election.
Senator Stevens was prosecuted, by career prosecutors, during President George W. Bush’s administration. After the politically useful damage had been done, replacing a senior Republican Senator with a junior Democrat, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan not only overturned the conviction, but also took the extraordinary step of ordering the federal prosecutors, involved in the case, be investigated.
In an extraordinarily rare move, he ordered an inquiry into the prosecutors’ handling of the case. Judge Sullivan insisted that the misconduct allegations were “too serious and too numerous” to be left to an internal Justice Department investigation. He appointed Washington lawyer Henry F. Schuelke III of Janis, Schuelke & Wechsler to investigate whether members of the trial team should be prosecuted for criminal contempt.
The investigation of the prosecutors took three years, resulting in a 500-page report that found:
The investigation and prosecution of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens were permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated Senator Stevens’s defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government’s key witness.
Naturally, no federal prosecutor faced prosecution. However, one of Stevens’ prosecutors committed suicide while under investigation.
Between the Stevens case, the Duke lacrosse case, and the Baltimore police prosecutions for the death of Freddie Gray, perhaps we should be cautious about public presentations of cases based on prosecutors’ claims. We can also be cynical about the moral status of Republican calls for resignations of beleaguered party members, remembering the Stevens case. As Politico reported in 2009,
Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said … “I never called for him to step down or resign or anything like that. I think those who did might regret it now. Obviously, he was treated unfairly in that the Justice Department made a big error.”
Asked Wednesday if he regretted calling for Stevens’ resignation, [Senator] McCain said: “I know he and his family are relieved.” Asked the question a second time, McCain said the same thing again: “I know that he and his family are relieved.”
Republicans, in the heat of the 2008 election, made political calculations. Republicans, in the heat of the 2018 election, are making political calculations. This is perfectly understandable, but not evidence for the guilt or innocence of the shunned politician. Perhaps Eric Greitens has committed one or more crimes, or perhaps this is another political prosecution. It is too soon to tell.