MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- A federal prosecutor probing state lawmakers' handling of a gambling bill is herself under investigation for her role in the failed corruption case against former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, records show.
Brenda Morris, a trial lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section, worked as a lead prosecutor against Stevens.
Morris was identified as "senior litigation counsel" in the Alabama investigation in a recent letter to state officials.
A federal judge threw out the Stevens case, held Morris and others in contempt for their handling of it and named a special prosecutor to investigate the government's prosecution team. The Department of Justice also opened an internal investigation.
"In nearly 25 years on the bench, I've never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I've seen in this case," U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said when he threw out the Stevens case about a year ago, as quoted by the Associated Press.
A Department of Justice spokeswoman said neither Morris nor the department would comment.
Gambling supporters, including Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little, D-Cullman, said Morris' history casts doubt on the integrity of the investigation.
"An investigation such as this needs to be handled by qualified, competent people -- people who aren't under investigation themselves," said Little, who was among top lawmakers interviewed by Morris and other investigators last week.
House Minority Leader Mike Hubbard, a gambling opponent who also met with the investigators, said Morris' past should make little difference in the investigation, as she is not the only one on the case. He added that her prosecution of a high-profile Republican in the U.S. Senate discredits claims that the gambling investigation is politically motivated.
"At least, if that is the case, it proves they are not partisan, if they went after Ted Stevens," said Hubbard, R-Auburn.
Representatives from the Department of Justice, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Alabama Department of Public Safety asked top lawmakers last week about corruption related to the passage of a gambling bill through the Senate. The bill awaits debate in the House.
Steve Feaga and Louis Franklin, who led the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, a Democrat, also are named as representatives of the U.S. Attorney's Office in an April 2 letter about the investigation written to the director of the Alabama Department of Public Safety.
The Justice department's Public Integrity Section is leading the inquiry, according to FBI Special Agent Angela Tobon in Mobile. Investigators questioned the speaker of the House, the lieutenant governor and the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate on Thursday, the lawmakers said.
No findings have yet been released from investigations into Morris or other members of the prosecution in the Stevens case. They are accused of prosecutorial misconduct during the trial, including withholding key evidence from the defense.
Judge Sullivan called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to retrain all Department of Justice prosecutors in light of the Stevens case.
An attorney for lobbyist Jarrod Massey, who has been questioned in the bingo probe and accused of offering senators money for pro-gambling votes, likened Morris to a police officer under investigation for shooting a suspect.
"Typically, those officers are relegated to desk duties until they are absolved of any wrongdoing," said Birmingham attorney Brett Bloomston.
Asked about Hubbard's view that the Stevens prosecution discredits claims of political prosecution of the gambling case, Bloomston said "the federal government is not beyond reproach" or beyond political prosecutions.
"Obviously, corners were cut in the Stevens case, and shortcuts were taken to get a conviction," Bloomston said. "That's where our concern lies."
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