Saturday, May 05, 2007

Three Republican State Legislators Indicted

[June 24, 2008: For a much more thorough and informed overview of the Alaska US House and Senate races see this post by Phil Munger at Progressive Alaska.]

OK, two are former legislators. Alaskan's have known since August when another legislator was indicted and it was clear the FBI had been to other legislators' offices that something like this was coming. The Eagle River (suburb of Anchorage) voters at least were smart enough to vote out Pete Kott already in the primary, but the Wasilla folks reelected Kohring in the fall. According to several stories in the Anchorage Daily News(ADN) today the three offered and worked to deliver any help VECO, an Anchorage based oil and gas support company, needed with legislation. In exchange they got cash and promises for jobs. Some of this was pretty blatant and the Daily News reported last summer at one point how VECO lobbyists called legislators over to talk to them during the session and seemed to be giving instructions.

Here's an different exchange on the House Floor. First you hear the Speaker recognize Rep. Wehrauch, one of the indictees. This is May 8, 2006 in the legislature. He has just introduced an amendment which passed. Then there is a recess. Weyhrauch gets the floor and apologizes that he wants to rescind the amendment he just introduced. Then Rep. Berkowitz, a Democrat, blasts Weyhrauch charging that he's changing his mind because the lobbyists told him to. Weyhrauch gets the floor again and says he's been impugned and it isn't true. Berkowitz then gives a civics lesson about how legislators are there for the people of Alaska, not for company lobbyists. (This is described in today's newspaper, the audio, from Gavel to Gavel, the state's coverage of the legislature, is from the ADN website.)

[If the audio is not on, first turn up your speakers. If that doesn't work Click on the Yellow Square) First Rep. Weyhrauch speaks, then Berkowitz.
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Some thoughts and questions:
1. Liars can sound convincing if we know nothing about them and the context. Just listening we don't know if Weyhrauch or Berkowitz is right. In hindsight, Berkowitz was on the mark and Weyhrauch was lying.
2. This raises new questions aboutWeyhrauch's strange adventure last week when he fell off his boat and swam an hour to shore and spent the night with the mosquitoes until he was rescued the next day. Was the accident really a suicide attempt and he changed his mind in the water?
3. How did the FBI bug the room at the Baranof Hotel? A reliable source who I trust and should know says the hotel knew nothing about bugging the room. And that makes sense. The fewer people who know the safer. So did they do it on their own? Did the VECO lobbyists cooperate with the FBI and does that mean they won't be indicted? The mission of thePublic Integrity Section of the Justice Department which brought the indictments says, "The Public Integrity Section oversees the federal effort to combat corruption through the prosecution of elected and appointed public officials at all levels of government. The Section has exclusive jurisdiction over allegations of criminal misconduct on the part of federal judges and also monitors the investigation and prosecution of election and conflict of interest crimes. Section attorneys prosecute selected cases against federal, state, and local officials ..." Although their language only mentions public officials, their 2005 Annual Report gives an example of a non-governmental target. "On November 21, 2005, former public relations specialist Michael P.S. Scanlon pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to commit bribery, honest services fraud, mail fraud, and wire fraud from January 2000 through April 2004." Scanlon worked for Abramoff. Maybe they should add non-governmental targets to their statement.
4. The ADN says a "Senator A" also listed in the indictments did not run for reelection. Of the three who fit that description, two have denied being the person (one was having a baby at the time) and a third, who refused to comment, is US Senator Ted Steven's son, Ben. Will Uncle Ted be able to protect his son? Is there anything that needs protecting?
5. The Baranof Hotel ought to frame the newspaper article and put it in Room 604 so future guests will understand the historical significance of the room they're in. This is where VECO and the boys did their trading of favors. (I know, we should wait until the conviction, but the taped conversations reported in the paper are going to be hard to explain in court. And...
6. These indictments were brought by a Republican Administration. And given the PR fiasco of the firing of the Federal Prosecutors, I guess whoever is in charge of this is safe, even if Republicans are the target.

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