Tales from the Trail

FBI releases files on ex-Senator Stevens, little on corruption case

The FBI released some of its expansive files on former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens who died last year in a plane crash, offering tidbits about threats against him, accusations of corruption and some correspondence he had with the FBI.

FINANCIAL-BAILOUT/There was very little in the thousands of pages about the federal corruption investigation into Stevens beyond press clippings and court filings previously made public. The senator was initially convicted by a jury in October 2008 but the case was later dropped after a federal judge found that federal prosecutors withheld critical evidence from Stevens’ defense team.

Still, there were a few interesting tidbits, including details of contacts with foreign officials, several threats against him and also his work dating back to the 1950s when was a federal prosecutor in Alaska.

One FBI note talks about allegations that an attorney made a contribution to the Alaska Republican Party but it was allegedly illegally directed to Stevens’ re-election campaign and later the attorney received an appointment to be a federal judge with the senator’s support.

Another memo talked about an allegation that the former owner of the Fairbanks Daily News Miner who died and gave Stevens a $400,000 yacht in his will in exchange for his past help winning federal funds for projects in the city. The files do not offer details of investigations into the allegations. Stevens was never charged in those incidents.

Senate honors Ted Stevens with moment of silence, summer recess

The Senate honored Ted Stevens, the former Senator from Alaska who was killed in a plane crash this week, with a moment of silence, a resolution and an end-of-summer recess.

Stevens, who served in the Senate for 40 years until he lost the 2008 election amid a corruption scandal, was on a fishing trip with a small group of  friends when their small plane crashed in a remote area of Alaska.

The Senate returned to session on Thursday to give final approval to legislation to provide $600 million to strengthen security along the border with Mexico in the latest measure aimed at fighting illegal immigration, a highly politically sensitive issue in this midterm election year.

Washington Extra – Tragedy in Alaska

ted_stevensThere were three big stories competing for our attention in Washington today. The first was the tragic death of former Senator Ted Stevens in a small plane crash in his home state of Alaska. Stevens, the longest serving Republican senator ever, was on a fishing trip with Sean O’Keefe, the North American chief of European aerospace giant and Airbus maker EADS, who was among the survivors.

Dominating eyeballs in the financial markets was the Federal Reserve’s surprise decision to move back in the direction of what it calls “quantitative easing.” The Fed will use cash from maturing mortgage bonds it holds to buy more government debt. So for now, there is no more talk of an “exit strategy” from the extraordinary monetary stimulus the central bank delivered during the financial crisis. It is a significant policy shift for the Fed, and a sign it does not view the recent slowing in the economy as simply a soft patch.

The third is our exclusive Reuters/IPSOS poll from Ohio, which showed Republican Rob Portman holding a narrow lead over Democrat Lee Fisher in a race marked by, guess what, concerns over the economy and unemployment. Interesting nuggets in the survey too about who voters blame for the economic mess. Bankers and Wall Street were identified by 93 percent of voters as mostly or partially to blame for the economic downturn, while Bush’s administration was blamed by 86 percent. Obama, though, did not get off scot-free, with 69 percent of voters also holding his administration at fault.

Attorney General warns prosecutors after Stevens debacle

(UPDATE: clarifies first two paragraphs about Holder talking to prosecutors)

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had some pointed words for prosecutors on Wednesday after the fumbling of the corruption case against former Republican Senator Ted Stevens that the government ultimately had to drop because evidence was withheld from the defense team.

JUSTICEHe warned government lawyers at a conference that the case had threatened to undermine the Justice Department’s credibility for providing defendants all the material against them as required by law.

“Our adversarial system for criminal trials can only result in justice if the discovery process is conducted by the government fairly, ethically, and according to the rule of law,” Holder said at a National Black Prosecutors Association luncheon in Memphis.

First Draft: Queen tea

Protesters hijacked April Fools Day, spinning it into “Financial Fools Day” in London where President Barack Obama and other world leaders are attending the G20 summit.

BRITAIN-POLITICS/Meanwhile back at the Palace, Obama and wife Michelle are invited for tea with the Queen. Will the first lady’s curtsy meet muster?

A little detente is in the air. The United States and Russia saying they will pursue a new deal to cut nuclear warheads as the former Cold War rivals try to rebuild relations after the recent chill.

The First Draft: Wednesday, Nov. 19

Please sir, can I have some more? CEOs of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler make their case for a $25 billion bailout to the House of Representatives, one day after enduring a skeptical reception in the Senate. A vote could come as early as today, but Senate backers say they might not have the support they need.
 
Testimony to the House Financial Services Committee gets underway at 10 a.m.
    
In Chicago, President-elect Barack Obama continues to assemble his administration. Eric Holder, a former Justice Department official under President Bill Clinton, emerged yesterday as a possible pick for attorney general, while the Wall Street Journal reports that Clinton himself offered to submit his future charitable and business activities for ethics review if wife Hillary is tapped for Secretary of State.

Formal announcements could come on Friday, a source tells Reuters.   
   
In the Senate, Democrats have edged closer to a critical 60-seat majority after Anchorage, Alaska mayor Mark Begich declared victory over incumbent Republican Ted Stevens, a convicted felon. That gives Democrats control of at least 58 seats, with races in Georgia and Minnesota still hanging in the balance.
 
A recount in the Minnesota race between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken, a former comedian, begins today. Franken himself si making the rounds in Washington to raise money and huddle with his fellow Democrats.

For a change, the stock market is not expected to get off to a dismal start today. Hewlett-Packard’s reassuring quarterly results and profit outlook are expected to offset worries about the deeping global economic slump.
   
And finally, Happy World Toilet Day! The advocacy group Water Advocates says 2.5 billion people don’t have access to a toilet, leading to millions of preventable deaths each year from exposure to human waste. The group holds an event in front of the Capitol at 12:30 p.m. to draw attention to the problem.

Can Ted Stevens thrust Palin back into the national spotlight?

ANCHORAGE – Gov. Sarah Palin has gone home to Alaska, but her return to the national political stage may come sooner than the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign.

If Republican Sen. Ted Stevens maintains his slim lead over Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, it could once again thrust Palin into the spotlight. The 84-year-old Stevens could be re-elected for an eighth term despite being convicted of corruption last month. His conviction prompted calls for his resignation from Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Palin, his running mate. Stevens has vowed to fight on even though a convicted felon has never served in the U.S. Senate.

The conviction came a week before election day — too late to replace the longest-serving Republican on ballots in Alaska. If Stevens wins the election and then relinquishes his seat, that’s when things could get interesting.

Bush gives Republicans a little pep talk ahead of election

WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush dropped by the Republican National Committee headquarters unannounced to give the staff a little pep talk Tuesday amid polls showing Republicans trailing in the presidential contest and scores of key congressional races one week out from the general election.

Bush, with record low popularity ratings, has largely been unseen on the campaign trail this year, relegated to participating in private fundraisers for Republican presidential hopeful John McCain and congressional candidates.

“He encouraged them to work hard for John McCain and keep turning out the vote until the final ballot is cast next week,” White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said after the 20-minute visit.  “He also took the opportunity to thank the staff for all of their efforts during this election cycle and for their support of him over the last eight years.”

Stevens’ conviction likely makes re-election harder

WASHINGTON – Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens is an icon in Alaska where he has provided plenty of federal dollars and even has the airport in Anchorage named after him. But that might not enough to help the 84-year-old senator — the longest-serving Senate Republican in U.S. history – to win re-election next week.

“Just because they name the airport after you, doesn’t mean they won’t throw you out of office,” said Nathan Gonzales of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.

Stevens, who was found guilty on all seven counts of lying on Senate disclosure forms to hide more than $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts from the head of Alaska oil services company VECO Corp., already had been facing a tough race against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich in an political environment that has favored Democrats.