DOJ's elite Public Integrity unit gets new leader

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The Justice Department's Public Integrity Section has a storied 34-year history of pursuing corruption in government and safeguarding the public trust.

That trust was breached, however, when some of the unit's prosecutors failed to turn over evidence favorable to the defense in their high-profile criminal trial of Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who died earlier this month in a plane crash.

Now Jack Smith, a 41-year-old prosecutor with a love for courtroom work and an impressive record, has been brought in to restore the elite unit's credibility.

Before Stevens, Public Integrity's renown was built on large successes — like the prosecution of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and convictions of federal and state judges, members of Congress and state legislators, military officers, federal lawmen and bureaucrats and their state counterparts over the years.

But its stumble — not disclosing exculpatory evidence as Supreme Court precedent requires — was equally large. It was so serious that Attorney General Eric Holder, one of Public Integrity's distinguished alums, stepped in and asked a federal judge to throw out Stevens' convictions.

At the time of the Stevens debacle, Smith was overseeing all investigations for the international war crimes office at The Hague in the Netherlands. He'd read about the Stevens case. Offered the chance to take over Public Integrity, he couldn't stay away.

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