Thursday, November 25, 2010

Another Reading Recommendation


Happy Thanksgiving. And be thankful you aren't in the situation described well in an article in the Washington Post called "The Waiting."

The piece is about the experiences of the survivors and the rescuers in the aftermath of a plane crash last August in a remote part of southwest Alaska. That accident killed former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R.-Alaska) and four others: Dana Tindall, of Anchorage, a telecommunications executive; Tindall's daughter, Corey, a high school student; Washington, D.C., lobbyist Bill Phillips, a former chief of staff for Stevens; and the pilot, Terry Smith, of Eagle River, a retired Alaska Airlines chief pilot.

The crash left four other people alive--former NASA Administrator and ex-Stevens staff member Sean O’Keefe; O’Keefe’s son Kevin, a student; Washington, D.C.-area lobbyist Jim Morhard; and Phillips’ son Willy, a student.

The four survivors were in desperate trouble, not knowing if help would arrive. Even after it did, it took agonizing hours to get the survivors off the mountainside and into hospitals. The story is scary and affecting.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Former Don Young Aide Gets 12 Weekends in Prison for Role in Corruption


Former aide to U.S. Rep. Don Young (R.-Alaska) Mark Zachares was sentenced to 12 weekends in prison for giving tips and potential lobbying clients to disgraced uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff's operation while receiving cash, gifts, and the promise of a job.

Zachares got this sentence today after providing "substantial" and "complete" assistance to federal investigators probing two Members of the Congress the government did not name. The Washington Post reported that those two Members of Congress are "believed to be Young and then-Rep. Tom Feeney (R.-Fla.)." The prosecution told the court that Zachares was not to blame for the government's failure to charge either Member of Congress, as legal and other evidentiary issues allowed both of those lawmakers to get off the hook.

As the Anchorage Daily News pointed out, the sentence also requires Zachares to perform 200 hours of community service, pay a $4,000 fine, and serve four years on probation.

Clarification: When the title of my last post spoke of "the big screen," I didn't mean that I appeared in a movie shown in a theatre. It's just that TVs have gotten so large now that they dwarf my little computer....

If You Missed Me on the Big Screen Friday, Here's a Link


At the request of Matt Felling of Anchorage's KTVA Channel 11, I did some live TV Friday. I learned some things about live TV:

1. Keep your answers short.

2. Follow the cues in your ear, both from the questioner and from the producer in the booth.

3. Avoid fillers. (And if you think I talk funny now, buddy, you should have heard before I had, um, 12 years of Toastmaster training.)

Plus one substantive point: The lead-in to my interview and the headline on the story on the Website both state that federal investigators were "found guilty of professional misconduct" in the Ted Stevens trial. Given that there have been no findings--just multiple leaks of findings--this is incorrect. A good headline would be "Reports Say Fed. Investigators Will Be Found to Have Committed Professional Misconduct in Ted Stevens Trial."

You can see me yourself at

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mass Media Cliff: I'm Scheduled to Be Live on TV Tonight


The program is the 6 p.m. news on KTVA Channel 11 in Anchorage, and the interviewer is anchor Matt Felling. The subject is what I usually cover on this blog.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Good Reading from Steve Aufrecht on "POLAR PEN" and the Resulting Probes of the Probers


You ought to read Steve Aufrecht's post on questions raised by the federal investigation into Alaska public corruption and the satellite probes into the prosecutors and investigators that the original investigation spawned. A retired (he would say "emeritus") professor of public administration at University of Alaska Anchorage, Steve has a perspective that I don't have. Former State Rep.--and current federal prisoner--Tom Anderson (R.-Anchorage) was one of Steve's students, and Steve had embattled FBI Agent Mary Beth Kepner speak with one of his classes when she was on a roll instead of under the gun. You can find Steve's post at on the Internet.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Second Leak of Probes of Prosecutors Points Finger at Two Alaska-Based Lawyers and an FBI Agent


The Associated Press has reported that “a lawyer familiar with the matter” has said that a draft U.S. Department of Justice report finds that two prosecutors from the Anchorage U.S. Attorney’s Office and an FBI agent committed professional misconduct regarding the 2008 trial of then-U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.

The AP report says that the source identified Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Bottini and James Goeke as well as FBI agent Mary Beth Kepner as three officials being accused of having engaged in misconduct.

“Other Justice Department prosecutors involved in the case, including William Welch, who led the office that prosecuted Stevens, were not found to have engaged in misconduct,” says the AP report.

The AP report generally tracks the National Public Radio report published Monday regarding a report of the Office of Professional Responsibility, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog unit that focuses on investigating alleged violations of ethical standards.

The AP report differs from the NPR report, however, in that the AP states that its source says that the court-appointed special counsel conducting a separate probe of the prosecutors in the Ted Stevens case for potential criminal violations “has not yet made a decision whether to recommend charging anyone in the probe and has not made a decision on whether to issue a report on his findings.”

By contrast, the NPR report stated that Henry Schuelke, the court-appointed special counsel, had decided not to recommend any criminal prosecution of any of the prosecutors and had also prepared a written report.

The Associated Press report is by Pete Yost, and is available at on the Internet.

Separately, Rich Mauer of the Anchorage Daily News has a nice story on the pre-sentencing pleadings filed by Mark Zachares, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Don Young, R.-Alaska. You can find that article at on the Internet.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Report: No Prosecution for the Prosecutors


National Public Radio has reported that the prosecutors in the botched prosecution of Ted Stevens will not face criminal charges of contempt of court.

The news organization also known as NPR says that “two sources familiar with the case” have said that a report by a court-appointed special counsel will not recommend criminal charges for any of the government attorneys involved in the 2008 prosecution of the then-U.S. Senator.

A trial produced jury verdicts of guilty on all seven felony counts brought against Stevens, but the Department of Justice agreed in April of 2009 to the dismissal of the case and the setting aside of those verdicts in the wake of revelations of prosecutorial misconduct. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, who presided over the Stevens trial, took the highly unusual step of appointing Washington lawyer Henry Schuelke to investigate six Department of Justice attorneys for possible criminal charges of contempt of court. Those six attorneys included four from the Department’s elite Public Integrity Section—William Welch, Brenda Morris, Nicholas Marsh, and Edward Sullivan. "The Stevens Six" also included two lawyers on loan from the Anchorage U.S. Attorney’s Office, Joseph Bottini and James Goeke.

NPR also reported today that the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (“OPR”) has completed its own separate investigation into the prosecutors’ handling of the Ted Stevens case. OPR is the DoJ’s internal ethics watchdog, and the NPR report says that OPR has completed a report flowing from the investigation.

Based on Carrie Johnson’s article on the NPR website, various figures on the government’s trial team will fare differently in that OPR report on professional misconduct in the Stevens case.

NPR said that “the two sources” said that the OPR report did not make findings of misconduct against William Welch, who headed the Public Integrity Section during the trial, or Welch’s deputy Brenda Morris, who served as the lead prosecutor in court despite being added to the prosecution team only weeks before the trial.

NPR’s article says that Nicholas Marsh, one of the other two government lawyers who spoke before the jury, “was not the subject of specific findings in the report.” Marsh committed suicide September 26, about a month after Ted Stevens died in an airplane crash in southwest Alaska.

NPR’s report states “Alleged misconduct by two Alaska prosecutors, Joseph Bottini and James Goeke, is described in the report, the sources said, as is FBI agent Mary Beth Kepner, who was the subject of a complaint by another FBI agent who portrayed himself as a whistleblower.”

Along with Morris and Marsh, Bottini was the third member of the government’s trial team who spoke in front of the jury. Kepner was the FBI agent who apparently originated the federal government’s “POLAR PEN” probe into Alaska public corruption that produced the prosecutions against Ted Stevens and 11 others. Kepner served as the co-lead agent on “POLAR PEN” with Chad Joy, an FBI agent whose post-trial complaint led to the unraveling of the Stevens prosecution and the stalling of the whole “POLAR PEN” probe.

Johnson’s article says that another prosecutor, Edward Sullivan, “also emerged from the investigation without major trouble.” Edward Sullivan and James Goeke were mostly behind the scenes during the prosecution, and they apparently concentrated on responding to the flood of motions produced by Ted Stevens’ aggressive defense team at the law firm of Williams & Connolly.

On a separate front, Welch and Morris last week filed formal notices of appeal of Judge Sullivan’s ruling that they committed civil contempt of court in post-trial proceedings regarding Joy’s complaint. Judge Sullivan imposed no punishment based on that finding of civil contempt.

Carrie Johnson’s article on the NPR website can be found at on the Internet.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Correction and a List of Questions for the Feds


Although I said yesterday that former super-lobbyist and convicted felon Jack Abramoff is in federal prison, it is more accurate to say that he is in federal custody. He was released from prison to a halfway house in Maryland in June, and while living at the halfway house he has reportedly been working to promote a kosher pizzeria in Baltimore. Abramoff is set to be released from the halfway house next month.

In other transition news, for the next few days I will be in Valdez and Ellamar, a remote community on the eastern side of Prince William Sound. Questions to ponder while I'm gone include:

1. Given their setbacks with judicial rulings and with witnesses, will the feds really go ahead with the scheduled trial of former State Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch (R.-Juneau) next year?

2. When will the court-appointed special counsel who has been conducting a criminal investigation of some of the prosecutors involved in the federal probe into Alaska public corruption issue the report detailing the findings of that investigation?

3. What announcement--if any--will the Department of Justice make about the end of that federal probe into Alaska public corruption?

Standard disclosure: I have known Bruce Weyhrauch since we both worked as staff for the Alaska Legislature in the early 1980s. We socialized a number of times when I lived in Juneau in the 1980s and early 1990s, but he has never discussed this case with me.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Traffic Cop in the New Snow: Anchorage Daily News Has News on Don Young's Former Aide Requesting Probation


I invite your attention to Rich Mauer's article in the Anchorage Daily News detailing the efforts of former high-level U.S. House Transportation Committee aide Mark Zachares to ask for probation following his guilty plea. Zachares was a key assistant to U.S. Rep. Don Young (R.-Alaska), and Young gave him the job after then-uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff helped Zachares. Abramoff is now a convicted felon and federal prisoner. As Mauer's story lays out, Zachares gave Abramoff's operation inside information on Congressional work, and "Team Abramoff" gave Zachares "$30,000 in tickets to sporting events, a luxury golf trip to Scotland and $10,000 in cash." You can find the article at on the Internet.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bruce Weyhrauch's Trial Reset Again, This Time for Four Years after His Indictment


The federal courts have set out another schedule for the long-delayed trial of former State Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch (R.-Juneau), with the new trial date set for May 9, 2011.

The re-setting occurred after a hearing this morning, which was covered by Rich Mauer of the Anchorage Daily News. You can read his report at on the Internet.

U.S. District Judge John Sedwick set out the reasons for why a case already almost three and a half years old will be set for trial more than six months in the future. In an order issued today, the judge observed that “This case is part of a series of prosecutions which, as it has turned out, involved a variety of failures by the prosecutors to comply with their discovery obligations.” The government has a new set of lawyers, and they need more time to learn the case. The defense attorneys have indicated that they will file a whole bunch of pre-trial motions that might fall into one of a dozen categories, some of which will focus on government misconduct that the defense will argue should result in the case being thrown out.

Mauer’s article says that the defense announced today that it will try to paint a full portrait of that government misconduct by getting testimony from Mary Beth Kepner, who once served as co-lead agent for the FBI on the seven-year-old federal probe into Alaska public corruption. That testimony will apparently have to be compelled, as Weyhrauch’s defense team said back in July that a lawyer for Kepner had indicated that she would exercise her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination if called to testify.

The prosecution’s case against Weyhrauch has more problems than Kepner. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last summer on the honest-services fraud statute and the general decline in perceptions of Weyhrauch's alleged briber Bill Allen are among the other barriers to obtaining a conviction of the ex-lawmaker.

As I have repeatedly disclosed, I have known Bruce Weyhrauch since we both worked as staff for the Alaska Legislature in the early 1980s. We socialized a number of times when I lived in Juneau in the 1980s and early 1990s, but he has never discussed this case with me.