Be wary of Alaska reps' 'show' trials

Posted: Monday, August 13, 2007

Judging by pictures and stories, that must have been quite a parade of media and government officials to Girdwood when federal agents - led by the FBI - searched the home of Sen. Ted Stevens. It makes Federal Bureau of Showboats a more appropriate title.

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There's nothing wrong with searching. The senator is even being cooperative. He is so cooperative that he offered the FBI a key to the home but the offer was declined, according to a Fox News story.

There was more breathtaking drama with black-clad agents pouring out of black SUVs and surrounding the house (so the bad guys won't escape?), making it look like a surprise raid. They had a locksmith and put on a show for the neighbors, the media and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

There's nothing wrong with searching, but there is something wrong with staging a show. It questions the integrity and ethics of the FBI, especially considering that neither Stevens or his son has been charged with anything.

Is the FBI trying a case in the media that it doesn't have otherwise? Many people did business with VECO Corp., as Stevens did, without it being criminal, as 2,000 VECO employees in Alaska will testify.

Contrary to other misinformation about Stevens, he did not advocate the purchase of land near the Anchorage library for the National Archives. He preferred a site at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The money Stevens obtained for the city of Seward, which the city transferred to its SeaLife Center, was never intended for the purchase of property. Stevens had no interest at any time in the property that SeaLife eventually purchased.

By trying their case in the media instead of in court the FBI, IRS and Department of Justice are acting unethically, if not illegally, and should be ashamed. The Alaska media should be ashamed, too, for poor reviews of the show and for failure to identify the cast - sources of information.

Stevens' situation is more widely publicized than that of Congressman Don Young and Alaska's other senator, Lisa Murkowski. But the Democrats and their supporters also are after them in show trials by media.

In Young's case, news reports keep accusing Young of providing $10 million to study a highway interchange in Florida to benefit a land owner who contributed $500 to his campaign. Missing are more pertinent facts in the case.

Floridians have asked for the interchange for 26 years to speed evacuation during hurricanes. If built, the interchange also improves access to Florida Gulf Coast University, which is creating a transportation study center. The $10 million is for a study of the interchange, not construction, which, incidentally, is not near the $500 contributor's property.

In the case of Sen. Murkowski, she was accused of getting special treatment in the purchase of land from a family friend, Bob Penney. She paid the borough-assessed value for the lot. Nevertheless, an Anchorage Daily News reporter found some real estate agents to speculate that the property was worth more than the assessed value.

What was left out of the story, and probably unknown to the real estate people, was that under terms of the purchase, if Murkowski and her husband sold the property within five years, Penney had the right of first refusal to buy it back. And if it sold for a higher price than Murkowski and her husband paid for it, 50 percent of the profit would go to Penney. Those stipulations lower the value of the property considerably.

But the senator sold it back to Penney - at a loss - to avoid criticism, which was dumped on her anyway by the junior journalists engaged in a campaign against Alaska's congressional delegation.

It is going to get rougher before the state primary election next Aug. 26. Alaskans will be real suspicious if the FBI fails to bring down the curtain on its show before too much time is lost in the 2008 election campaigns.

And Alaskans hope that their members of Congress receive a standing ovation. There is too much for Alaska to lose if we lose their seniority in a Democrat-controlled body antagonistic toward Alaska.

• Lew M. Williams Jr. is the retired publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News who has been a Southeast Alaska journalist since 1946.

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