Ted Stevens Trial Gears Up.

22 09 2008

Today’s the day. After three unsuccessful attempts to get the case thrown out, jury selection in the Ted Stevens trial will begin today.

Ted Stevens is kind of like Queen Victoria, or Ramses the Great. Many of his ‘subjects’ simply can’t remember a time he wasn’t in power. To imagine someone else in the Senate, filling that seat, is almost impossible. Stevens, now 84, has been serving Alaska in this capacity since Christmas Eve of 1968. This means he’s literally been in the Senate since before most Alaskans were born. He has been President Pro Tem of the Senate. He has been the chair of important committees, including the Senate Appropriations Committee. He has brought multiple millions of dollars to the state over the years. He even has his name on the shiny new granite-tiled Ted Stevens International Airport, which was built mostly with earmark money.

For all the good Stevens has done, there are many who think his time is over. Ex-Governor Walter Hickel, who appointed Stevens to his senate seat in 1968 has even said it’s timefor the very senior senator to retire. Stevens has deteriorated a lot in the last few years. His frequent stammering is almost incomprehensible. His belligerence is alienating many Alaskans who used to revere him. And sometimes he’s just downright embarrassing… Wearing a tie featuring the Incredible Hulk on the Senate floor, and his reference to the internet as a “series of tubes” has begun to define his national image, more than his actual policies.

Then came the summer of 2007. Sitting in my office, minding my business, the news came over the radio. The FBI and the IRS were raiding the home of senator Ted Stevens in the small town of Girdwood, south of Anchorage. People in the Girdwood area started calling local talk radio stations with on-the-scene reports. Gawkers drove to Girdwood and parked outside ‘the chalet’, as Stevens calls his home, to see what was going on.

Photos were being taken of gutters and barbecue grills, electrical outlets and wrap-around decks, and onlookers stared in stunned silence at the black SUVs and the guys in suits and glasses swarming the Stevens’ home. The raid was stunning, and it was the talk of the state for weeks. Then, finally on July 29, 2008, one year later, the indictment came. Stevens was accused of accepting more than a quarter of a million dollars in home renovations, and personal gifts that were never paid for, and were never reported on his Senate disclosure forms. The source of these gifts, which included raising the entire house and adding another floor, was Veco, an oil services company. The CEO, Bill Allen, and the VP, Rick Smith plead guilty to bribery, and is now ‘telling all’ to the FBI and the IRS.

Sarah Palin is not the only soap opera in Alaska politics.

The witness list for the trial includes some well-known names: longtime friend Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and former Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Quite a list of power brokers. Now here’s the interesting part, just to give it a little Alaskan twist.

Also on the witness listare a Fairbanks strip club manager, and the underaged ‘coke-for-sex’ former mistress of key prosecution witness, former CEO of Veco, Bill Allen. And there are all kinds of accusations about paperwork that the newly sold and renamed Veco Corp. (now CH2M Hill) refuses to turn over to the defense.

So for those of you who are suffering from Sarah-fatigue, take heart. Alaska is an endless source of the strange, the sordid, and the knee deep muck of Alaskan politics.

Here’s the Ted Stevens classic. Enjoy the “series of tubes”.

Troopergate’s Strange Bedfellows.

22 09 2008

Alaska politics is making strange bedfellows these days. Last week Wasilla conservative Republican, and Alaska State Senate President Lyda Green spoke with KUDO, the progressive talk radio station. Green was one of Palin’s mentors at the beginning of her career. But years went by, and the two began to disagree. There were power-plays, and barbs thrown. Palin appeared on a conservative radio program in which the DJ said he was going to say what Palin couldn’t about Green. “She’s a B**ch!” Response from Palin? Giggling. “She’s a cancer!” More giggling. And yes, Lyda Green is a cancer survivor. Eventually, Green decided that she no longer could work for the Legislature while Palin was governor. Her constituents were rabidly pro-Palin and the writing was on the wall. So Green announced she would not be running for re-election in November. This was big news when it happened, back in the day when we weren’t in the national spotlight.

So Lyda Green, who was intensely disliked by the Democratic Party (although they never called her names on the air) made an I-have-nothing-to-lose appearance on KUDO. She came right out and said that the investigation should and would proceed, and that nothing had changed. We were seeking the truth when it all started, and we still are. What followed were calls of praise and admiration from the very ‘blue’ listening audience…. It was like something out of the Twilight Zone.

Now from the progressive community who normally wants to see his head on a pike,there’s another uber-conservative pundit who is engendering praise – Dan Fagan. Dan Fagan is a notorious right wing radio talking head, turned columnist in the Anchorage Daily News. The ADN is frequently criticized by the vast right-wing community in Anchorage as being a “socialist rag”. So they hired Dan Fagan, and now they can say “Well, what about Dan Fagan??” and cross their arms. Fagan frequently talks in matter-of-fact terms about “liberal bias” in the media, and now he has a “liberal media” nest in which to comfortably perch, and continue to do just that. And anyone unfortunate enough to walk under the nest will likely have a ‘deposit’ land on their head.

But there is one thing that Dan Fagan is not at the moment, and that is a Palin fan. If you’ll recall the emails from Sarah Palin’s hacked Yahoo! account that made it on the web, there was an exchange between Palin and her Lt. Governor Sean Parnell, bemoaning Fagan’s treatment of Parnell (a congressional candidate at the time) during his appearance as a guest on Fagan’s radio show. In Palin’s email response, she said,

“His fighting you reveals some evil stuff going on with him. Does he want someone OPPOSED to the life issue in Congress?”

“Evil?” Zounds! Fagan’s been called a lot of names, but I don’t think he’s ever been called ‘evil’. And, do we infer that Palin thinks that everyone out there who believes in reproductive choice has “evil stuff going on” with them?

This brings us to today. Fagan has come out with an interesting opinion piece in the Anchorage Daily News. Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

The real damage to Palin from Troopergate comes with an injury claim involving trooper Wooten when he hurt his back while in the line of duty.

Independent investigator Steve Branchflower testified recently he believes someone in the governor’s office tried to block Wooten’s workers’ compensation injury benefits.

Harbor Adjustment Services, the company hired by the state to process, evaluate and decide on workers’ benefit claims, had great financial incentive in bowing to pressure from the governor to deny Wooten’s injury claim.

Obviously, the state is Harbor Adjustment Services’ largest client. The owner of the company denies the governor’s office pressured her to deny Wooten’s benefits. Why wouldn’t she? Ratting out the governor could cost her the lucrative state contract.

But Branchflower says an employee with Harbor Adjustment Services contradicts the owner and has testified the governor’s office did apply pressure to deny Wooten his benefits.

Branchflower says the unnamed employee testified, “I don’t, you know, care if it’s the president who wants the claim denied. I’m not going to deny it unless I have the medical evidence to do that,”

We know the governor’s office was very interested in Wooten. Dianne Kiesel, a state employee with the Department of Administration, tells me former Palin chief of staff Mike Tibbles instructed her to walk Wooten’s personnel file over to the governor’s office.

And there is the governor’s aide, Frank Bailey, caught on tape admitting he has information that came from Wooten’s workers’ comp file.

The very file that includes pictures, taken by none other than Todd Palin, of Wooten riding a snowmachine trying to prove the trooper was not injured.

Here’s why this is all so damaging to the governor. It’s one thing to try to get a trooper fired because you believe he is a danger to the public. But using your considerable power as governor to block the benefits of a former family member you have a long-running dispute with moves this scandal into a new realm.

It becomes about one thing and one thing only, revenge. Not public good, but settling a score.

Fagan is correct in that this angle on Troopergate hasn’t been explored deeply. We get hung up on tasers, and ex-wives, and affairs, and ‘rogue cops’, but the thing that may stick, is Palin’s tampering with the worker’s compensation claim. With Al Capone, it was tax evasion…you just never know.

It was only a week or so ago that the unnamed employee from Harbor Adjustment Services came out with her information to investigator Stephen Branchflower’s “tip line”. And it has also only recently been revealed that part of the file includes photos of Wooten on a snowmachine, taken by Todd Palin while he was out collecting evidence to use against Wooten. Yes, at one point our “First Dude” Todd Palin was following Mike Wooten around to ‘get something’ on him.

John Cyr, the head of the PSEA (the Troopers’ union), who was interviewed extensively on Anchorage’s KUDO radio says that if those 1100 emails the Palin administration is withholding (claiming executive privilege) were released, they would show that Palin had used her office to keep tabs on Wooten. Cyr, who filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the documents was told it would cost $88,000 to fulfill his request. “That seems a little steep,” said Cyr, “and suspicious.”

19 days and counting until special investigator Stephen Branchflower’s report on his findings in this investigation.