Yesterday new assistant U.S. attorneys being sworn in at a Washington, D.C. ceremony got a surprise guest speaker: their boss, Attorney General Eric Holder.
Holder, speaking as investigators are probing allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in the handling of the criminal corruption case of former Sen. Ted Stevens, reiterated to the new prosecutors that their goal should be obtaining justice, not just a conviction.
“Your job as assistant U.S. attorneys is not to convict people,” Holder said, according to the AP. “Your job is not to win cases. Your job is to do justice. Your job is in every case, every decision that you make, to do the right thing. Anybody who asks you to do something other than that is to be ignored. Any policy that is at tension with that is to be questioned and brought to my attention. And I mean that.”
Holder, whose appearance at the event was not announced, addressed the Stevens case specifically. “There were mistakes made in the Stevens case,” he said. “We’ll see exactly what those mistakes were all about. …There are going to be a lot of articles, I suspect you’re going in newspapers over the next couple of days, about how things have gone wrong in the department. A lot of these articles are going to be unfair. And yet we have to deal with those perceptions. We’re capable of dealing with them, but the only way ultimately that we’re going to restore faith in this department is through the work that you all do.”
Restoring that faith means that prosecutors cannot sacrifice justice in pursuit of a guilty verdict, Holder said. “You are expected to do nothing more than the right thing. Anything other than that is unacceptable,” he said.