A federal prosecutor who led the elite public integrity unit when the case against the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens collapsed has told associates he will leave the Justice Department.
William Welch, who got his start rooting out public corruption in his home state of Massachusetts, has operated under withering public scrutiny for more than three years. Welch was promoted to lead the public integrity unit in 2007 and ran the show during the corruption trial of Stevens, who was the longest serving Republican senator until he was convicted of felony crimes and lost his bid for re-election in 2008.
Stevens later died in a plane crash. But the government misconduct allegations that infected the Stevens case continue to reverberate. A special prosecutor criticized Welch for not doing enough to manage the day to day workings of the ill-fated trial and the evidence-sharing process. But the prosecutor's report concluded that Welch had been hampered by interventions from higher-ups at Justice.
The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing into the failings in the Stevens case later this week. And the Justice Department's internal ethics report into the debacle is nearing conclusion. Attorney General Eric Holder told lawmakers last month he hopes to make much of that report public.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department and a representative for Welch had no comment on his departure, which one source said he characterized as a "retirement."
Welch had been scheduled to lead a controversial prosecution later this year of former CIA official Jeffrey Sterling, who is accused of leaking secrets to New York Times reporter James Risen. That case has drawn widespread media attention because it could set important precedent on the issue of whether reporters enjoy some sort of legal privilege that could help them protect their sources.