Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Gambling on the Big Decisions

Live from the Ted Stevens Trial, Day 11—Part Two

Washington, D.C.--

The rest of the day paled in comparison to the slam-bang ending, and until then it felt anti-climactic following the Stevens-Allen tapes and the meaty cross-examination of Allen conducted yesterday.

Lead defense attorney Brendan Sullivan continued his successful efforts to make Allen repeat the defense themes. When Stevens helped used his clout as a Congressional powerhouse to help VECO, for example, he was just sticking up for an Alaska business like any Senator from Alaska would.

Sullivan was less successful in trying to portray Allen as eager to shade his testimony against Stevens to curry favor with the government. Sullivan went over with Allen provisions of the agreement by which he sold VECO for $380 million last year. The lawyer attempted to show that Allen had reason to try to help keep VECO for being prosecuted for campaign finance violations, which Sullivan suggested would threaten Allen’s ability to receive some portion of the $70 million of the purchase price that was held back to address contingent liabilities.

Allen would not help Sullivan on this point. He said that the $70 million held back was to pay off things like taxes and environmental issues. Allen said he hadn’t read that portion of the contract, and generally indicated a lack of worry about future prosecution of VECO affecting his receipt of that money.

More generally, Sullivan’s attack on Allen as a money-grubber anxious to help the government seemed to fail in the face of the 71-year-old’s gestalt on the stand. The former global business titan and political point man for Big Oil seems like the farthest thing from a shrewdly calculating sharpie trying to hurt Ted Stevens for his own benefit. What the jury sees instead is a tired old man whose testimony is halting and often contradictory and clearly colored by affection for his old pal.

What Sullivan covered today was in some ways less interesting than what he didn’t touch. There was no mention of Allen’s brain injury, and none at all in the cross-examination beyond a couple of references to Allen’s “terrible motorcycle accident” in July of 2001. The allegations about Allen being concerned about prosecution for another crime—alleged sex with an underage girl—saw nary a whisper.

Beyond those tactical decisions not to hammer on those personal issues of Allen’s, Sullivan obviously chose not to avoid problem areas that he may have no good explanation for. So left undiscussed was Allen’s testimony that after he gave a king-sized bed to Stevens, the Senator wrote and asked him to get a queen-sized bed instead. Also omitted was any discussion of the frame VECO put in Stevens’ garage for the Senator’s speed bag.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Bottini’s redirect examination of Allen was crisp and effective in getting Allen to clear up questions about what VECO had given Stevens.

Bottini was particularly good in handling the defense point that Allen was justified in not billing Stevens for work fixing the garage roof given that Allen believed that the problem with the original work was the improper architectural design by a VECO employee.

Bottini noted that Stevens never paid for the design, and asked Allen “Have you ever heard of anyone offering a warranty on a free item?”

One of the oddest things that Allen said today came at the end of his redirect examination when Bottini asked him if the Senator had given Allen helpful information on the proposed natural gas pipeline. Allen said that yes, Stevens knew Jim Mulva, the President of ConocoPhillips Alaska, which wanted to build the gasline. Given that VECO made most of its money by working for ConocoPhillips and the other big oil producers in Alaska—and that Allen faces years in prison for bribing Alaska state legislators to pass an oil tax bill that benefited those big oil producers—this statement was a puzzling yet tantalizing non sequitur.

The prosecution plans to finish presenting witnesses tomorrow morning. Looming over all of today’s events was the court’s repeated references to the possibility that the trial will come to a sudden stop right after that.

There will be a hearing tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. on the defense’s motion for dismissal or a mistrial based on alleged prosecution misconduct involving disclosure of evidence. Judge Emmet Sullivan has talked tough, and he is clearly very angry about some screw-ups by the prosecution in this case. In the spirit of the good old boys down at the track, however, this blog makes two wagers:

1. Sen. Ted Stevens will not testify in his own defense.
2. The judge will let this case go to the jury to decide.


Unknown said...

What's a speed bag?

Cliff Groh said...

It's a lightweight punching bag originally used by boxers and then used by those who like the exercise it provides.

David F said...

Enjoy your postings! Looking forward to today's. Thanks for doing it. David Finkelstein