Scandals, Senate

From Bwtm


Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) Gay Sex Scandal

Craig returns to the Hill

September 19, 2007 Just when the GOP was preparing for a good week on Tuesday — touting a new attorney general pick and positive testimony on the war — Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) made his surprise return to Capitol Hill.

Craig ducked into the Republican policy lunch hours after making an unexpected return to the Capitol 12 days before his likely resignation. Senators and aides were caught off-guard by the embattled conservative’s appearance in a chamber where many had expected the stigma of a gay sex sting arrest to keep Craig away for good.

“Obviously he wants to clear his name, and that’s a decision he has to make,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). Summing up Congress’s consensus on Craig, he added: “It takes a lot of moxie to come back to this place.” Craig’s homecoming began in a morning encounter near the members’ dining room, where he crossed paths with a surprised but cordial Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). If Graham was jarred by the arrival of Craig, a onetime ally whom most Republicans have given up for dead politically, he did not show it.

“I like Larry,” Graham told reporters. “It’s not a personal thing.”

The decision to return was undoubtedly personal for Craig. He has vowed to reverse an Aug. 8 guilty plea that began with a Minneapolis airport police officer’s allegation of sexual solicitation and ended with a 27-year career in tatters. To the phalanx of reporters that trailed him throughout the day, Craig offered a few clues to his fate.

Asked whether he was optimistic about the legal claim that his quick plea amounted to “manifest injustice,” Craig replied, “I have no opinion, but I’d like to be.” A hearing on his case is slated for Sept. 26 in Edina, Minn.

Craig also dismissed speculation that his presence in the Senate, where he cast three votes Tuesday, amounted to a signal that he would not adhere to a planned Sept. 30 resignation.

“He is here representing Idaho, working on transition, and meeting with his legal team,” Craig spokesman Dan Whiting said.

Craig called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) before he showed up in the chamber, a GOP aide confirmed. But few senior Republicans were eager to discuss how they received Craig, who made brief remarks at lunch that Whiting said were not prepared in advance.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), chairman of the GOP conference, was asked what Craig told him during an encounter on the floor. “Larry Craig walked over to me, and was talking to me about some procedural issues,” Kyl said. “We had a conversation. He’s a member of the Senate and so am I.”

Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.), whom Craig supported during his 2002 fight to stay in leadership, batted questions away. “I think the Ethics Committee’s going to review this matter — see y’all!” said Lott with a sunny smile. Sen. Mel Martinez (Fla.), chairman of the national Republican Party that reportedly helped push Craig toward stepping aside, declined to comment. So did Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who urged Craig to resign days after the Idahoan’s arrest became public last month.

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who also quickly called for Craig’s ouster, was less tight-lipped.

“I accept him as a colleague,” Coleman said, emphasizing that the resignation he urged still seems imminent. “It’s fine for this month.”

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), vice chairman of the GOP conference, has stayed mum on the scandal due to the Ethics Committee investigation he may have to help steer against Craig if the Idahoan hangs on to his seat. But Cornyn told reporters that he had a kind word for Craig on Tuesday, telling him, “My family and I are praying for you.”

As whispers and raised eyebrows followed Craig’s every move, his strongest supporter also drew even more attention. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has repeatedly urged Craig to rehabilitate his standing in court and in Congress, and Tuesday was no exception.

Craig and Specter hailed each other off the floor, shaking hands to the popping of flashbulbs. “Nice to see you smiling,” the Pennsylvanian and former prosecutor told Craig.

“It’s good to be back,” Craig told Specter. Later, the Judiciary Committee’s senior Republican suggested that Republicans could open their arms to their longtime colleague now that “the initial shock has worn off.”

“There’s been a lot of favorable talk about Larry in the cloakroom, let me put it that way,” Specter said.

Meanwhile, Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter (R) has started interviewing possible replacements for Craig, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Alaska Senator Ted Stevens

What's wrong with Alaska?

Every member of Alaska's all-GOP congressional delegation is embroiled in scandal.

August 13, 2007 It is difficult now -- it has always been difficult -- to visit Alaska and not depart with the feeling that you have witnessed something experimental and anomalous. The state seems less an extension of America proper than a distilled counterfactual, a pioneer's idea of what the country could have become. There is the magnificent landscape, of course, the rough survivalist feel, the intimacy with the natural world and the disorienting, ever present gender imbalance. Where women outnumber men in the rest of the country, the proportion is reversed in Alaska, the most male of all 50 states. There is the state's unique transience, too, the notion that with more than 60 percent of Alaska's population born elsewhere, the state's very existence depends on hundreds of thousands of decisions to pick up stakes and leave the Lower 48, and on an equal number of individual commitments to live not only differently but apart. And then, perhaps even more vividly, there is the politics.

The political anomalies of the far Northwest are on view right now in a scandal that looks likely to bring down much of the state's Republican establishment, threatening the careers of oil executives, lobbyists and all three of Alaska's representatives in Washington. The alleged improprieties are as crass as they get -- lobbyists handing out bribes on the floor of the state Legislature, federal money directed by Alaska's U.S. senators to those companies, and lobbyists who granted politicians personal favors. The taint has spread so far that it has become a crisis not just for those politicians who have been directly implicated, and not just for the Republican Party, but for the state itself. The Associated Press was recently moved to call the few living statesmen who had signed the state's first constitution, in 1956, and ask them what had become of their creation. " Greed is rampant," one of them, Vic Fischer, told the AP. "I'm very disgusted. It's not a matter of betrayal. It's more a matter of sadness and concern. But most of all disgust."

What's wrong with Alaska? The state's politics can seem an accident of its own isolation, and dependence. There are few states that seem as ripe for scandal as this one, with its history of single-party rule and an economy, based on the extraction of wealth from public lands. But there may also be another, deeper truth: Alaska's strange, enticing political culture may equally be a legacy of the state's senior senator, Republican Ted Stevens.

It is perhaps unsurprising that such a scandal should have erupted in Alaska. The state's economy, more than any other in the nation, is based on making money from government land -- fishing, oil exploration and tourism are among the state's biggest industries -- which means that just about anyone in the state who wants to make a buck needs to get close to legislators, in Juneau and in Washington. The state's often outsized dependence on the federal government was highlighted in 2005, when its congressional delegation won $223 million to help build a bridge to Gravina Island, Alaska (pop. 50). When other senators tried to cut the appropriation, Stevens threatened to quit, and if the bill did not pass, he said, "they'll have to take me out of here on a stretcher."

But the relationship between pork and prosperity in Alaska has been long-lasting. The original deal that politicians cut in the early '70s to permit oil companies to drill on federal land in the state requires the companies to pay into a state-run fund, which in turn cuts each Alaskan a check for nearly $2,000 a year. By the time Stevens stepped down as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee in 2005, Alaska was snaring federal pork at a rate 30 times the per capita national average. The New Republic's Franklin Foer, in a 2002 essay, called Alaska the archetypal conservative welfare state. "Stevens and his fellow Alaskans like to think of themselves as embodying a kind of rugged, frontier libertarianism," Foer noted. "If only it were all true."

Stevens, like most of the state's residents, wasn't born in Alaska but came when he spotted opportunity. Stevens had been a young, Harvard-trained environmental lawyer in Washington who helped staff the Eisenhower campaign; when a job in the administration didn't come through, he borrowed $600, piled his wife and belongings into a Buick, and got off the highway in Fairbanks in 1953. Alaska was not yet a state. The conservative establishment in Alaska in those days was tiny, and Stevens quickly became the province's U.S. attorney and a statehood advocate. By 1970, he'd worked his way up through the state's Republican establishment and got himself elected U.S. senator. At the time, vast wedges of the state, the Alaska political leader Willie Hensley has said, were still in "the twilight of the Stone Age."

Stevens' politics were for the most part those of a doctrinaire conservative, but at key moments they approached something more basic: an old-fashioned, ward-heeler-style grab for public cash and advantage, in which the constituency is served and ideology is irrelevant. In a state where the U.S. government still owned 60 percent of the land, and the population was settled too sparsely to develop viable creative industries, this dependence on federal assistance was of a certain grudging necessity. But under Stevens' powerful hand the relationship between the state, the Republican Party, and federal cash was formalized and extended. Early in his career, the senator helped push what had been a Democratic stronghold into Republican control. And when he won for Alaskan-native-owned firms a unique legal exception that allowed them to garner millions of dollars in federal contracting during the 1970s, he not only ensured prosperity for villages that still ran mostly on subsistence farming and hunting, but he also moved the state's large native population into the Republican column, effectively guaranteeing a one-party state.

By 1997, he'd made himself into the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a perch he used to bring home an unprecedented amount of federal spending. "Almost every institution, region and segment of the population in the state has benefited from Stevens' efforts, from its schools and social programs to its transportation system, its urban areas and the far-flung villages of Alaska's Native peoples," the Los Angeles Times concluded in 2003. The most striking thing about Ted Stevens may not be his cartoonish grandeur, that when this 84-year-old pipsqueak swaggers down to the Senate floor for appropriations fights he wears an Incredible Hulk tie. The most striking thing may be that he has earned it.

But Stevens had also made Alaska into his own version of a political machine, one in which taxpayers from the Lower 48 were footing the bill. As his profile increased, so too did public scrutiny. A 2003 investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that Stevens had funneled millions of dollars in single-source contracts to clients of his brother-in-law, the lobbyist William Bittner. In 2006, investigators from the federal government started probing the senator's relationship with a former aide, Trevor McCabe, who represented companies that had won nearly $700,000 in contracts thanks to a project Stevens had written into legislation. The structure Stevens set up replicated itself in Juneau, Alaska's capital, where his son, the former state Sen. Ben Stevens, has been fingered as a recipient of political bribes. The Stevens machine in some ways mirrored the one run by Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff in Washington, where ex-aides to powerful politicians set up shop as lobbyists and directed their clients to send campaign cash to their former bosses in exchange for federal contracts. But in Juneau, with public scrutiny far less intense, things had become far more brazen.

The mess that now threatens Stevens and the rest of the state's congressional delegation began, as is so often true in Alaska, with oil. On Aug. 30, 2006, teams of investigators from the FBI, IRS and Justice Department, probing allegations of bribes paid by an oil services and engineering company called Veco, raided the offices of six state legislators, shutting the blinds, picking through files with rubber gloves. They uncovered a practice that had never been terribly well hidden: State legislators were allegedly taking bribes from Veco and associated companies in return for sending government contracts their way -- for building state prisons, promoting state fish products, and servicing state-run oil fields.

Stevens himself was implicated when it emerged that Veco had built, free of charge, an extension that doubled the size of his Alaska home. The state's junior senator, Lisa Murkowski (who had been appointed by her own father, Frank Murkowski, to replace him when he left the Senate to become governor in 2002), got in trouble for buying land at far below market value from a businessmen who later won favors from the federal government. Alaska's lone representative in the U.S. House, Don Young, is in hot water for directing earmarks to two companies that contributed to his campaigns. To date, one state legislator has been convicted of taking bribes, and four lobbyists and executives have been indicted for giving them. Bribes were blatant, and floor votes in Juneau were being directed by lobbyists over the telephone. In the state Senate, lobbyists were caught handing voting instructions across the banister meant to separate legislators from the public.

When the details finally began to emerge this year, the Democrats, a meek and politically sidelined force in Juneau, started issuing a collective cri de coeur, urging the state's representatives to take back the Capitol from the lobbyists. "This is our floor. Our floor," the House's minority leader, Ethan Berkowitz, announced to the chamber last fall. "No telephone call's supposed to change what we're doing." (Some of the implicated Republicans, meanwhile, had hats printed up that read "CBC," for "Corrupt Bastards Club.") But reform hasn't arisen from partisan competition, as it did in Washington. In a neat symbolic fit, the agent responsible for Alaska's current moment of reform and modernization is a woman, a breed once nearly as rare in far Northwest politics as a Democrat. Sarah Palin, a libertarian and hockey mom from the fast-growing suburbs of Anchorage, began her political career -- as an appointed member of the state's Oil and Gas Commission -- by hacking into the computer of another commissioner, Randy Reudrich, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party. Palin was seeking the evidence that she would eventually use to charge him with an improper relationship with lobbyists. (Reudrich would later settle state ethics charges against him by paying a $12,000 fine.)

It is difficult not to see Palin's ascendance not just as a challenge to the state's establishment but also as presenting a crudely cut choice between the state's cronyist, resource-economy past and its future. She beat Frank Murkowski, the incumbent, in the GOP primary; voters began to sour on Murkowski as soon as he picked his daughter to replace him in the Senate, and then grew angrier over his grubbing for a private jet and other perceived ethical lapses. He left office the least popular governor in the country. Since her election as governor last November, Palin has made a public point of cutting down on Alaska's excesses, and challenging the easy habits of its past -- getting the state to put Murkowski's infamous jet up for sale on eBay, canceling pork projects and firing patronage appointees. By early this summer, with the scandals plaguing the rest of the Republican Party, Alaska Democrats had made some headway in the polls. But Palin's approval ratings are over 90 percent. Whether in the long term Alaska's economy can modernize and the state can wean itself from government welfare remains to be seen. But as Stevens hits back at the FBI through press releases, the senator's old legislative aides plead guilty, and his son endures a federal investigation, the moment is beginning to look like a pivotal point in Alaska's history. Perhaps the rough edges are being ushered out and something more modern and nationally acceptable has begun to move in.

What is happening in Alaska is not simply the collapse of one ancient Republican power and the rise of another, in Palin, that is more fragile and conditional. It is the assertion that for all of the country's divisions into red and blue, the national culture does exert a crude centrifugal tug, a tendency to iron out protruding regional discrepancies. The plaintive, humbled sounds coming from Alaska right now are those that always emerge when the exception succumbs to the rule.

Stevens' aide Trevor McCabe investigated in Alaska scandal

July 31, 2007 By Dennis Zaki - Roll Call is reporting that Alaska senator Ted Stevens' business partner and former aide, Trevor McCabe, is also being investigated for kickbacks in a widening corruption scandal.

So far the investigations have has snagged two Republican lawmakers, an ex-president of the state Senate, multiple state legislators, and oil company services executives.

By John Stanton, Roll Call Staff - FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents raided the Girdwood, Alaska, home of GOP Sen. Ted Stevens on Monday as part of a growing corruption probe that also has focused on GOP Rep. Don Young (Alaska).

The Girdwood home is the subject of controversy because it was remodeled with the assistance of officials from the embattled oil services company VECO Corp. At the same time, the FBI and the Department of the Interior are investigating a series of earmarks pushed through Congress over the past several years by Stevens for an Alaska nonprofit tied to Trevor McCabe, a former Stevens aide and a business partner of his son, Ben, sources familiar with the investigation said.

According to the sources, the investigation is focused on how millions in federal funds earmarked for the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska, were used and how more than $500,000 made it to McCabe.

Marcia Blaszak, Alaska Regional Director for the National Park Service, declined to comment Monday on the specifics of the multi-agency inquiry, citing the fact that it is an "ongoing federal investigation." However, Blaszak did say staff from her office have been cooperating with investigators from DOI's Office of Inspector General. "A number of our employees have been contacted" by DOI's IG, Blaszak said.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the investigation.

At issue is a 2005 earmark for the SeaLife Center, a marine wildlife research center and tourist attraction. The center - which according to published reports has received more than $50 million in federal funding since it opened in 1998 and has long been a pet project of Stevens' - was given a $1.6 million earmark in 2005 to purchase an adjacent property that was owned at the time by McCabe.

Initially, McCabe had sought to sell the property to the NPS as part of a massive office construction project the service had planned for Seward. But negotiations for the building collapsed in 2005, according to an April 2006 story by the Anchorage Daily News.

The shift in funding turned out to be controversial in the small community. Former City Manager Clark Corbridge warned in a letter to the center in 2006 that the city should be allowed to approve the purchase so as to avoid "future problems and possible allegations of impropriety," according to the Daily News article. Corbridge did not return calls for comment.

The center went forward with the plan and purchased the property from McCabe's company, the Centennial Group, for $558,000.

Additionally, at the time McCabe was a business partner with Stevens' son, Ben, in a consulting firm that has come under scrutiny from federal investigators in a separate investigation. During the time of the sale, McCabe also had reached a separate agreement with the center to operate boat tours for the facility through Alaska Outfitters, a second company owned by Stevens.

According to sources close to the investigation, federal investigators have focused on how the decision to purchase the property was made, as well as other potentially problematic earmarks in the past. These sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that in addition to the interviews with NPS employees, investigators also have interviewed a number of other individuals connected to the center and the sale.

A spokesman for the center did not return calls for comment. Seward Mayor Vanta Shafer and McCabe also could not be reached for comment.

The investigation into the SeaLife Center is the first known instance in which federal investigators are directly probing actions taken by Stevens in his official capacity as a U.S. Senator.

Although a Stevens spokesman declined to comment on the investigation, Stevens has acknowledged that federal investigators are looking into the involvement of executives from the VECO oil company in a construction project he had done to his home in Girdwood. Ben Stevens, a former state Senator, and McCabe also are under investigation for their connections to VECO, as is Young.

Additionally, federal investigators in December issued subpoenas to fishing industry executives in Washington state, Washington D.C., and Alaska as part of a related corruption probe.

Separately, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security has contacted officials with the National Archives and Records Administration regarding a set of earmarks to NARA that financially benefited two of Stevens' business partners, Senate aides and federal officials said.

Aides on the subcommittee met with NARA officials Friday as part of their inquiry into the agency's purchase of a property in Anchorage from two of Stevens' business partners, Jonathan Rubini and Leonard Hyde.

Bette Phelan, a spokeswoman for subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), confirmed the meeting and said committee aides were reviewing documents provided to the panel by NARA. "Staff asked for this briefing because NARA, as a federal agency, falls under its jurisdiction, the jurisdiction of the Senate Subcommittee on Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security," Phelan said.

NARA spokeswoman Susan Cooper said Rick Judson, who is overseeing the project, along with members of NARA's Congressional affairs office, met with staff July 27 to brief "them on the history of the Alaska purchase." Cooper said Judson "reiterated that Sen. Stevens had nothing to do with the purchase" and discussed the purchase price of the property.

Hyde and Rubini sold a small parcel of land in Anchorage to NARA in 2004 for $3.5 million, more than double the amount the two land developers had paid for the property a year before. NARA purchased the property using funding earmarked for the project by Stevens.

The two real estate magnates partnered with Stevens from 1997 and 2005 on a series of land deals in Alaska, which helped turn Stevens from one of the chamber's poorest Members into a millionaire. Stevens' office has defended the earmarks and has said he had no role in the selection of the site.