Stevens Trial Steams On…and a New Blogger is There.

6 10 2008

A new man has pinched his nose and jumped into the shark-infested waters of Alaska political blogging. I’d like to welcome Cliff Groh to the pool. Groh is in Washington D.C. now, blogging about the Ted Stevens trial. His history with Stevens is long, and his knowledge of Alaskan politics is extensive. He is working on a book about the current political corruption scandal uncovered by federal investigation. He understands the dynamics of corruption. He’s a straight shooter.

The name of his blog? Alaska Political Corruption. It’s not catchy or clever, but it gets the point across, and Groh is good at getting the point across. I’m adding it to my blogroll, and will be checking it throughout the trial. Here’s his assessment of the two legal teams.

Not counting the defendant himself, there were 12 people sitting at the defense table or at the bench behind at a hearing last week.

The prosecution also had approximately a dozen people at that hearing.

This massive investment on behalf of Ted Stevens is a far cry from what we saw in the three trials of Alaska state legislators occurring in Anchorage last year. In each of those public corruption cases tried in Alaska, the defendant was outgunned so badly it was embarrassing. It was like a freight train was roaring down the tracks on one man.

This case sets up very differently. With all of the resources expended on Stevens’ defense, this trial is more like two freight trains colliding—and it’s not clear which train will ultimately get the worse of it.

All this fine legal work for Ted Stevens doesn’t come cheap. It’s entirely possible that this defense is costing $175,000 per week during the trial, and that estimate could be substantially low.

$175,000 a week? You could buy a lot of sled dogs, fish sculptures, massage chairs, barbeque grills, generators and home renovations for that chunk of change!


Stevens Trial – Bill & Ted’s Desert Adventures

1 10 2008

So, if I told you that an 84-year old Senator was on trial for seven felony counts of failure to disclose gifts and home renovations on his Senate financial disclosure forms, and then I told you that he wore a panda tie to the trial, and then I told you that his estranged best friend, now turned key witness for the prosecution, told a wistful story about how the two of them used to go to “boot camp” together in the desert southwest, and walk around eating hardly anything but drinking wine as a weight loss strategy…. you’d probably have to do a mental rewind. You’d ask me to repeat myself, and you’d listen again and then start to think I’d been hitting the wine myself, or at the very least was relating a weird dream in that way you do when you first wake up.

But, you’d be wrong on both counts. This is all very, strangely true. The witness in question is none other than former oil services company Veco’s former CEO, Bill Allen. And Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure really did happen.

“Allen described meeting Stevens for the first time in the early 1980s at fundraisers and events for Republican Frank Murkowski, who was running for the U.S. Senate and went on to a term as Alaska governor. Allen spoke wistfully of their former “close, personal friendship” and how they used to go to “boot camp” in the desert Southwest – where they would walk around, eating little and drinking only wine, “trying to get some pounds off.”

While Allen testified, Stevens looked down at the table, writing. It didn’t appear the two former friends ever made eye contact.”

I don’t know that wandering in the desert drinking wine is the most effective weight loss strategy, but it does get points for creativity….unless the dehydrated alcoholic heat stroke gets you. Ah, the hazards of “boot camp.”

And the panda tie? I can’t explain it. Stevens has been infamous in the past for wearing another tie, featuring the Incredible Hulk (no I’m not kidding), on the Senate floor. That’s when many Alaskans collectively sink down in their chairs with a hand over their faces trying to act like he’s not our Senator. Stevens even has a collection of Incredible Hulk memorabilia in his Senate office. The Hulk is his totem animal. Maybe the panda was meant to metaphorically show the court that deep down he’s just a big ol’ teddy bear? The Hulk can be a bit intimidating, and you could imagine him being in shackles… but a panda? No jury could be that cruel.

Most of the rest of the Stevens trial has been all about…home renovations. Electricians, photos of plugs, blueprints, telephone lines, contractors….kind of a snooze. But Bill Allen definitely spiced things up a bit.

The conversation also turned to some of the unreported gifts that Stevens has received from Allen and Veco: gift baskets, a $30,000 fish sculpture, engraved guns, a sled dog puppy, a generator to save the Stevens’ chalet from potential Y2K issues, and a foot-sewn doll. If you are more convinced than ever that I’m making this up, feel free to check HERE, where they are live blogging the Stevens trial.

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”.

Alaska Lt. Governor Sean Parnell Concedes!

18 09 2008

Alaska Democratic Congressional Candidate Ethan Berkowitz

Lt. Governor Sean Parnell will not seek a recount in the Republican primary for Alaska’s lone seat in the House of Representatives. He conceded to 18-term incumbent Don Young, who is currently under investigation and has spent more than $1 million in legal fees, before he has even been indicted. Young squeaked out a narrow victory with a final vote tally of only 304 more votes than Parnell.

Parnell, who had indicated he would seek a recount, has apparently had a change of heart. He may be banking on a McCain-Palin victory, which would put him snugly in the governor’s chair with a direct line to the White House. At this point, it’s not a bet I would take, but I’m not him.

The concession still strikes me as odd, since the margin of victory was slim enough that the state of Alaska would have picked up the costs of a recount. Maybe he worried that a recount and second loss would sully his image. Palin and Parnell are all about image.

Democrats will sleep a little easier tonight knowing that Democratic challenger Ethan Berkowitz will be the one to face Don Young in November. Parnell would have been a tougher competitor. I can practically hear the champagne corks popping at Berkowitz headquarters.

Despite the much larger Republican turnout at the primaries, many of Parnell’s votes were “anyone but Don Young” votes from Republicans, Independents, and Non-Partisans. Many will either not vote at all, or vote for Berkowitz, simply because the 18-term corrupt, bombastic, blowhard that is Don Young is no longer tolerable.

There were also many Republican ballots selected by Independents, and Non-Partisans who lean Democratic, but voted for Young in a strategic move to keep him in the race so Berkowitz can bring him down like a bag of dirt. In Alaska, Independents and Non-Partisans can choose either the Republican or Democratic ballot. That’s why there are so many of them. Ahhhh…strategery.

Frankly, it’s also going to be a lot more fun to cover a Young-Berkowitz matchup for local media and bloggers.

So join me in a toast (or a donation) to Ethan Berkowitz! >tink< It’s not going to be a cake walk, but he stands a chance of ending an era of corruption in Alaska’s congressional delegation. I’ll bet there are plenty in Washington D.C. popping their own corks right about now.

Operation Chaos a Success! Don Young Wins by a Nose!

17 09 2008
Lt. Governor Sean 'Caribou Ken' Parnell
Lt. Gov. Sean “Caribou Ken” Parnell (left) and Don Young with his favorite objet d’art….Don Young.

Operation Chaos, it seems, may have been a diabolical success.  You’ll all recall when Rush Limbaugh urged all his supporters to vote for Hillary Clinton in states with open primaries.  The theory was that she’d be easier to defeat than Barack Obama.  It’s debatable whether his tactic had any effect locally, but it obviously didn’t work on a national level.

In Alaska, on the other hand, things may have turned out differently.  It was no secret in the polling, that Democratic candidate Ethan Berkowitz was much more likely to defeat long-term but desperately corrupt incumbent Don Young, than Republican newcomer (and some would say Palin-bot) rival Lt. Governor Sean Parnell.

So, devious Independants and Non-partisans (who make up well over 50% of the voters in Alaska), chose the Republican ballot and voted for Young in a desperate attempt to swing the general election in favor of a viable Democratic candidate.  How do I know this?  Because, just in general chit-chatty conversation, I personally came across FIVE people who did it.  I didn’t ask. It was almost like people needed to make this guilty, yet gleeful confession.  Did one of my earliest posts help plant the idea?  Probably not. Not many people read it.  But the idea obviously sprang up indepentently in the minds of those hungry to get the old-guard corrupt politicians out of office.

Weeks after Alaska’s primary, the absentee ballots now counted, Don Young can claim victory by the razor-thin margin of 304 votes.  I know five of the voters by name, and I’m guessing that Alaskans like them have put him over the top.  Alaska politics makes strange bedfellows.

Parnell  will probably call for a recount, so keep those champagne bottles corked for now.  The recount could take another 10 days.  But, things may be looking up in one branch of Alaska politics.

Alaska AG Says None Will Testify in Troopergate Probe.

16 09 2008

Well, if anyone had any doubt about how dirty this would get, wonder no more. The Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg (3rd in line for the Governor’s throne should Palin win the VP slot, and Lt. Governor Sean Parnell win the House seat) has announced that none of the 13 people state employees who were issued subpoenas in Palin’s ethics investigation into the “Troopergate” scandal will testify, unless there is a unanimous vote from the full Senate or the entire Legislature.

In other words, the Attorney General has stated that nobody who is subpoenaed will show up.

Either the AG and the McCain campaign are genuinely afraid of what this investigation will uproot, or they are just trying once and for all to illustrate that the guy at the anti-Palin rally in Anchorage on Saturday who held aloft a sign reading “Bush in a Skirt” was right. My money is on the former.

Oh, and five private citizens from the Fairbanks area today filed suit to halt the investigation on the grounds that the entire thing is unconstitutional. And of course Palin herself has folded her arms, crinkled her nose and said she will no longer be cooperating in this investigation that she “welcomed” just a few short weeks before she was assimilated into the world of Republican politics on the national scale.

I keep searching for the appropriate Alaskan metaphor for overkill. Swatting a mosquito with a sledge hammer? Shooting a moose with a cruise missile? Whatever metaphor you choose, the message is the same. There’s a whole lot of legal muscle, big league strategy, and nasty DC Rovian politics descending on our poor little town in the Last Frontier. Makes you wonder what exactly there is to find, and how desperate they are to make it go away.

And, of course, there always has to be an official reason given for the stonewalling. And it’s usually a good laugh line, so here it is, from AG Talis Colberg:

“This is an untenable position for our clients because the governor has so strongly stated that the subpoenas issued by your committee are of questionable validity.”

Ahh. It would be uncomfortable to testify because the governor doesn’t want them to. Now, I get it.

The silver lining in all this? The more paper they throw, the more tantrums they throw, the guiltier they look. Long ago, Rep. Les Gara suggested to Palin that she confess to a bad judgment call, and hire Monegan back. She didn’t listen. And now the act of firing Monegan, which has gone so far to illustrate her temperament, her decision making ability, and her judgment, has come back to haunt her, with help from the McCain campaign.

There is a growing sense in the blogosphere, in local and national media, and among people I know, that the bloom is off the Palin rose.

Palin Refuses to Cooperate with Ethics Probe. What a Surprise.

15 09 2008

This one didn’t surprise me.  The Associated Press is now reporting that Sarah Palin will no longer be cooperating with the Troopergate investigation.  Actually, I’m not sure if she ever was cooperating with the Troopergate investigation.  So far her cooperation has involved:

  1. Saying she was going to cooperate.
  2. Reiterating that she was going to cooperate.

and….that’s about it.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A campaign spokesman says Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin won’t speak with an investigator hired by lawmakers to look into the firing of her public safety commissioner.

McCain campaign spokesman Ed O’Callaghan told a news conference Monday that the governor, the Republican nominee for vice president, will not cooperate as long as the investigation “remains tainted.” He said he doesn’t know whether Palin’s husband would challenge a subpoena issued to compel his cooperation.

The campaign insists the investigation has been hijacked by Democrats.

And I have yet to have anyone explain to me how a Republican dominated Legislature could have voted unanimouslyto proceed with the investigation by special investigator Stephen Branchflower, and have been “hijacked by Democrats.”   That story may cut it with her new-found friends in the Lower 48, but it’s not cutting it here in Alaska.  I think that this move lost her a lot of respect with Alaska lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and with a lot of Alaskan voters.  There are plenty in Alaska who are caught up in Sarah-mania, and will defend her no matter what she does, but not everyone.

The only reason Palin was not issued a subpoena, is because the Legislature actually believed her when she said she would cooperate.  They actually took her at her word.  (Patting Legislature on head) Oh, you trusting souls. 

Alaskans know corruption.  They know what it feels like to be kicked in the teeth by their elected representatives.  They recognize the signs of guilt, and the twisting and squirming, like a bug on a pin, that our corrupt politicians display when the heat gets turned up.  This is not new.  We’ve danced this dance more times than we care to admit in the last two years. But this one was supposed to be different.  THIS one was supposed to be “clear and transparent.”  THIS one stood up there in her lipstick and her red blazer, and her mantle of change and said, “Hold me accountable.”

We know what’s tainted this investigation, and ‘taint the Democrats.

OK, Legislature.  The ball is in your  court.  Dust yourselves off, because it’s your play.