Alaska editorial: Stevens' chairmanship critical for all Alaskans

Posted: Monday, August 13, 2007

"Disturbing" is a word that might be most suitable at the moment regarding the activities surrounding Sen. Ted Stevens.

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It's disturbing in that having agents of the FBI and IRS enter the senator's Girdwood home, under the authority of a court-approved search warrant, is not what one would hope to see happen to a senator who has done so much for - and who means so much to - the state of Alaska.

It's disturbing to see the incident portrayed far and wide as a "raid." Can it truly be called a raid when federal authorities notified the senator's attorneys in advance that they wanted to search the home?

And it's disturbing to see some people clamor for Stevens' head when it's not even clear yet that he is the target of the federal government's probe. It wasn't all that long ago, in May of this year, that The Associated Press was reporting that two law enforcement officials told the wire service that "Stevens was not considered a target of the investigation."

And that brings us to the calls that came in this week from national advocacy groups that want Stevens to relinquish some committee posts because federal agents searched his Girdwood home.

This week we have been treated to comments from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Now who could argue with a group bearing such a noble name? Some people certainly will, however, upon hearing that the group was founded, and continues to be run by former assistant U.S. attorney Melanie Sloan, who has a long history as a Democratic aide on Capitol Hill. She has worked for Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.; served as counsel to a subcommittee headed by then-Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. (now a senator); and served as an attorney for a committee headed by Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.

We also have heard from Taxpayers for Common Sense, which year after year has lambasted Stevens for what it perceives as wasteful spending in government. It should come as no surprise to anyone that this group came out with a letter asking the Senate minority leader to ask Stevens to remove himself from committee assignments until the federal probe has been resolved. And yet the group's letter concludes with statements that are all too eager to convict: "We think you would agree that the use of public office for personal profit in any way, shape or form cannot be condoned."

This is disturbing on more than one level.

It's also potentially devastating for Alaska. Not having Stevens hold his committee posts would further weaken Alaska's standing in an already hostile Washington setting.

We'll all learn the details of this federal inquiry soon enough. Until we do, however, calls for the senator to step aside from committee positions are premature.

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