Saturday, April 16, 2016

Jim Traficant: beamed out

Former U.S. Rep. James Traficant, seen here during a House Ethics Committee hearing in 2002, served seven years in prison on federal bribery and racketeering charges. Traficant died on Saturday. He was 73.
Jim Traficant appears before the House Ethics Committee after his criminal conviction in 2002

The cult of personality that has grown around Donald Trump, the current front-runner for the Republican nomination for President in this year's election, has left many people wondering why he holds any appeal at all. Trump's supporters hold him up as someone who can boost the American economy, and whose frankness will prove a welcome challenge to political correctness and "politics as usual" in the nation's capital. Opponents see a narcissistic blowhard who offers an authoritarian and impractical solution to illegal immigration while failing to denounce support from white supremacists.

It all must seem like deja vu to the voters of Youngstown, Ohio. For nearly 20 years, their representative in Congress was a brash man with an awful toupee and a consistent record of irritating his colleagues.

But while James A. Traficant Jr. was largely despised in the House of Representatives, he enjoyed plenty of support at home. Over the years, he built up a reputation as a person who sought to fight government waste and bring economic development to a chronically depressed district in the Rust Belt. Even after his career ended ignominiously, with a conviction on corruption charges and expulsion from Congress, he enjoyed plenty of support at home.

Jim Traficant was born in Youngstown on May 8, 1941. He graduated from Cardinal Mooney High School in 1959 and went on to attend the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in 1963. While at the school, Traficant became quarterback of the football team and played alongside Mike Ditka, who would go on to become a renowned coach for the Chicago Bears. Traficant was a late round pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but didn't make the team. He also tried unsuccessfully to play with the Oakland Raiders.


Even at this stage in his life, Traficant earned a reputation for speaking his mind. While still attending the University of Pittsburgh, he made headlines for insulting the school in an interview. He had made two mistakes so far in his life, he claimed: "Coming to Pitt was the first. Staying at Pitt was the second." After he graduated, he spent some time working for insurance companies before becoming the consumer finance coordinator for the Youngstown Area Community Action Council in February 1967.

By this time, Youngstown had fallen on hard times. The city had been a center of steel production for decades, and its population had swelled to 130,000 in 1930. Mills provided work for thousands of people, and demand for steel boomed during World War II. But increased globalization and a decline in the steel industry caused Youngstown's economy to stagnate. Organized crime seized the opportunity to take control of city and county government posts, with mobsters from Cleveland and Pittsburgh battling for influence. Higher poverty and the prevalence of illegal drugs added to the persistent problems in the region.

Traficant turned his attention to the drug problem in 1972, becoming the coordinator for Mahoning County Drug Programs. He later became executive director of the organization. He returned to the University of Pittsburgh and earned a master's degree in administration in 1973. He got a second master's degree, this one in counseling, from Youngstown State University in 1976. In November 1977, Traficant became the chairman of the Mahoning County Welfare Advisory Board.

Traficant tried his hand at politics in 1980, when he ran for the Democratic nomination for sheriff of Mahoning County. He managed to defeat incumbent George D. Tablack in the primary, and won the general election despite the party's decision not to endorse him. Among the changes Traficant made while in office was the decision to institute 10-hour work shifts for deputies and end the use of county cars and credit cards.


In October 1981, a Mahoning County reserve deputy was murdered. While transporting a dangerous prisoner, John Litch Jr.'s vehicle was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by the prisoner's half-brother. When Litch got out to investigate, the driver shot and killed him. Both the prisoner and his half-brother managed to escape, but were later apprehended. Litch was the first Youngstown area law enforcement officer to be killed in the line of duty since 1952, although four other police officers had been shot during the year. Traficant said he accepted responsibility for Litch's death, but came under investigation after it was reported that the sheriff's office had been tipped off about the possibility of an ambush and not taken any action. A grand jury decided not to charge him with any malfeasance.

One incident which helped give Traficant a folk hero reputation occurred in 1983. By law, the sheriff was required to sign foreclosure deeds after a property was sold at auction. When a court presented Traficant with 10 foreclosure notices for the residences of unemployed mill workers, he refused to sign them until he knew "the disposition of those people displaced from their homes." In February, he was found in contempt of court and ordered to spend 100 days in jail.

Admirers would thereafter remember Traficant as a sheriff who was unwilling to carry out foreclosures on the downtrodden. However, he was imprisoned for only three days before agreeing to serve the notices, after which he was released. Still, Traficant continued to show sympathy for those who were about to lose their homes. In December 1987, while serving in Congress, he successfully created a $3.5 million program to provide counseling for people who were facing foreclosure.

By the time Traficant did his brief stint behind bars, he was facing a much longer prison sentence. Although the Pittsburgh and Cleveland crime families were locked in a violent power struggle for control of Youngstown, they collaborated when it came to keeping local political figures in their pocket. Federal investigators had built a case that Traficant had received $163,000 in campaign contributions from both mob factions in exchange for turning a blind eye to their criminal activities.

As Traficant told it, Cleveland mob boss Charles Carrabia contributed $103,000 toward his primary campaign. Carrabia also took him to meet with James Prato, a leader in the Pittsburgh crime syndicate, a few days before the primary. Prato handed Traficant an envelope stuffed with $55,000 to add to the campaign. However, Traficant soon gave the money to Carrabia with instructions to return it to Prato. He didn't think he was going to win the primary anyway, and he wasn't keen on getting mixed up with the area's criminal syndicates.

After his unexpected victory in the primary, Traficant claimed, he planned on using Carrabia's support to help end Prato's criminal activities in Youngstown. He met with Carrabia on several occasions after the primary, promising to have the sheriff's office hassle the Pittsburgh faction. Unbeknownst to him, Carrabia was had several of the meetings recorded. And when other meetings with Prato failed to materialize, Traficant suspected that Carrabia was the weaker of the two mobsters.

Soon after Traficant won the general election, Carrabia and his brother scheduled a meeting with the sheriff to play one of the tapes. Carrabia threatened to turn over the incriminating evidence to the FBI if the new sheriff did not cooperate with him. Traficant claims that he was defiant, telling Carrabia's brother to "shove that tape right up his fucking ass." Though the recording would have implicated Carrabia, it also had the potential to bring down both Traficant and Prato.

But in December 1980, Carrabia disappeared and was never heard from again. Traficant took office in January 1981, and within three months the mobster who had recorded the meeting (Joe DeRose) was also missing. Both men were presumed dead.

The FBI still got wind of the recordings, finding some of the audio tapes during a search of DeRose's home. Agents confronted Traficant on June 15, 1981, playing one of the recordings for him. He confirmed that the voice of the person meeting with Carrabia, and discussing the exchange of money, was his own. He also drew up a statement about how he had accepted campaign funds from Carrabia and taken (and returned) additional money from Prato.

Both the tapes and the document would prove to be controversial. The FBI referred to it as a confession, saying it confirmed that Traficant had colluded with the mob and taken bribes to favor one faction in the war for Youngstown. They offered to grant Traficant immunity if he assisted in an investigation to crack down on organized crime in the region, but said he would have to resign as sheriff to accept the deal. Traficant met several times with the FBI, trying unsuccessfully to negotiate an alternate arrangement where he could offer assistance in the investigation while staying in his elected role; the FBI refused. In addition to this fundamental disagreement, Traficant was worried what would happen to him if he became a key witness against the mob; he had started carrying a .38-caliber handgun on him at all times after Carrabia and DeRose vanished.

In August 1982, a grand jury indicted Traficant for tax evasion as well as bribery conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which had been passed in 1970 to target organized criminal enterprises. Several organizations and officials had been calling for him to step down as sheriff prior to the indictment, including the judges of the Court of Common Pleas. Traficant refused, saying at one point, "To all those politicians who want me to resign: go fuck yourselves."

Though an attorney represented Traficant for the early stages of the case, the relationship eventually grew strained. Ignoring the legal advice to keep quiet before the trial, Traficant frequently ranted to the press about the FBI and IRS. He accused several public officials of having ties to organized crime, alleging that mobsters were working with the prosecutors to take him down. He also accused the FBI of forging his confession and doctoring the recordings. The head of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, who happened to be Prato's lawyer, petitioned unsuccessfully to have Traficant sent to an insane asylum.

When the case went to trial in May 1983, Traficant would act as his own lawyer. The sheriff had no experience in the courtroom, and later admitted that he first thought RICO referred to a crime family. If convicted, he faced up to 23 years in prison. Traficant made several unsuccessful attempts to have the trial moved from Cleveland to Mahoning County, saying the case was unique to that area. The judge refused to grant Traficant's request to have the jury made up entirely of Youngstown residents, although three people from the city were ultimately selected as jurors.

During the seven-week trial, the prosecution relied on the recordings, Traficant's signed statement, and testimony from several witnesses who said they were aware of the sheriff's links to the mob. The testimony included a Mahoning County deputy who said Traficant asked him at least five times to give him a superficial gunshot wound to make it seem like the sheriff had been targeted in a mob hit. Traficant admitted to the jury that he had taken money from both the Cleveland and Pittsburgh mob families. However, he said it was part of a sting operation to infiltrate the organizations and entrap the mobsters. He claimed that the statement to the FBI had been coerced, and that he didn't tell agents about his activities because he did not trust them.

He also brought up his background in helping crack down on drug abuse in Mahoning County, saying he wouldn't have gone from this profession to helping mobsters involved in the narcotics trade. Indeed, Traficant declared during his first campaign for the House of Representatives that he would seek to impose the death penalty for certain drug offenses. He kept his promise, proposing such a measure in March 1985.

On June 15, 1983, the jury acquitted Traficant of all charges. Jurors said they had discounted both the confession and the audio recordings since they couldn't be sure of their authenticity. It was an astonishing result that only added to Traficant's reputation. Stephen Jigger, head of the prosecution team, said he thought the sheriff's guilt had been proven without a doubt, but that Traficant had managed to direct the jury's attention to irrelevant points. He described Traficant as "an intelligent, articulate, and aggressive defendant" as well as a "skilled politician."

Indeed, the acquittal would prove to be a springboard that brought Traficant to national office. In 1984, he defeated six other candidates for the Democratic nomination for his House of Representatives district. He went on to defeat the incumbent Republican congressman, Lyle Williams, by almost 20,000 votes. Once again, he managed the victory even though his party declined to endorse him.

The corruption trial also resulted in another curious outcome. In August 1984, the IRS informed Traficant that he owed taxes on the $163,000 he had admitted to taking from the crime families. When he hadn't paid by the middle of 1985, they pressed the issue. The trial was delayed until after the 1986 election, when Traficant was re-elected to the House.

The victory at the criminal trial had made Traficant confident that he would be able to represent himself once again. The four-day trial took place in the U.S. Tax Court in Cleveland in November 1986. Traficant claimed that he had only accepted the money so it could not be used against him in the 1980 sheriff's race, and had returned it after the election. The signed statement and audio tapes were once again introduced as evidence.

Traficant did not have as much luck in these proceedings, and he held out slim hope for victory. "This is America. Even though this is the IRS, you never know," he said. "This stumbling jackass may pull it off."

He didn't; in September 1987, the court found in favor of the federal government. Traficant was ordered to pay back taxes on $108,000 in mob contributions that he had failed to report, plus interest and penalties. He challenged the decision soon after, but an appeals court upheld the verdict in August 1989. Four months later, he failed to meet a deadline to bring the matter before the Supreme Court.

Traficant would target the IRS at several points during his career. Anticipating his defeat in the tax case, he introduced legislation in April 1987 to protect the taxpayer from an "overzealous IRS." He later proposed legislation to limit the ability of the IRS to seize property from people charged with tax evasion, and his suggestions were folded into a tax reform bill approved by President Bill Clinton in 1998. Traficant was also pleased with the "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" passed by Congress in April 1996.

The Washington Post would describe Traficant as "one of the most deliberately outrageous members of Congress in history." He was known for a terribly unfashionable wardrobe, including polyester or denim suits, skinny ties, and cowboy boots. His ridiculous appearance was further enhanced by an enormous mound of perpetually mussed-up hair. "He looked less smart then he was," recalled Charles Straub, Traficant's former press secretary. "It put people off guard. It was part of his mystique as just an average citizen. But he was a very shrewd politician."

Traficant also became famous for a series of rambling, sometimes profane speeches on the floor of Congress. Representatives have the ability to speak on any subject, provided the remarks do not go longer than one minute. Traficant capitalized on this privilege to take numerous potshots at what he considered to be overreach, inefficiency, or foolishness on the part of the federal government.

The rants were often related to an obscure topic. In 2001, in between one-minute speeches by congressmen who advocated a United Nations war crimes tribunal for Saddam Hussein and a balanced energy plan for California, Traficant used his time to comment on a St. Louis alderwoman who had urinated in a trash can so she wouldn't have to yield the floor during a filibuster. He typically ended the speeches by shaking his head in dismay and making a Star Trek reference by declaring, "Beam me up, Mr. Speaker."


Criticizing foreign aid to the Soviet Union on one occasion, Traficant said, "Russia gets $15 billion in foreign aid from Uncle Sam. In exchange, Uncle Sam gets nuclear missiles pointed at our cities, two tape decks, and three cases of vodka." At another point, he said, "The Lord's Prayer is 66 words, the Gettysburg Address is 286 words, the Declaration of Independence is 1,322 words. U.S. regulation on the sale of cabbage—that is right, cabbage—is 27,000 words. Now if that is not enough to give Hulk Hogan's dictionary a hernia, check this out. Regulatory red tape in America costs taxpayers $400 billion every year, over $4,000 each year, every year, year in, year out, for every family. Beam me up."

Traficant's fellow congressmen were particularly irked in October 1990, when he made a remark about "political prostitutes" in Congress. He subsequently apologized "to all the hookers of American for associating them with the United States Congress."

These insults and scattershot criticisms did little to endear Traficant to other members of Congress, but they earned him a good deal of popularity in his home district. He would be re-elected to another eight terms after 1984, with his constituents praising what they saw as brutal honesty and an effort to shake up the nation's capital.

"We don't have much hope right now, and things are getting more dismal by the day. But one of the few things we still have faith in is that guy over there, Jim Traficant," said an unemployed ironworker who visited Traficant in Washington in 1985. "We know he'll fight for us. He is our blessing." Tim Ryan, who worked as an aide to Traficant, recalled the congressman by saying, "He was always rooting for the underdog, and was willing to spend his time and energy trying to help people that nobody else would listen to. There wasn't a guy who had more charisma, or more of an ability to make someone feel special and part of the fun that was going on." Supporters gave him the affectionate nickname Jimbo.

Although his outlandish appearance and statements dominated Traficant's personality, he also developed a substantial record of bringing federal assistance to his district. He succeeded in bringing a Saturn automotive plant to the Mahoning Valley and traveled to Japan to try to convince Mitsubishi to set up a similar facility in the region. He revived a proposal to build a canal between Lake Erie and the Ohio River. He also managed to get federal funding for the construction of two federal courthouses, a VA clinic, and a convocation center in Youngstown during his time in office. In May 1998, he secured $46 million for local road projects.

Although he worked to get federal spending directed to his home district, Traficant called for reduction in expenditures in other areas. He was particularly opposed to foreign aid, and also called for less government regulation on businesses. He called for "Buy American" provisions in spending bills and expressed opposition to free trade agreements. Traficant also supported tough measures against illegal immigration, calling for the deportation of anyone who entered the country unlawfully; he also wanted American soldiers stationed on the border with Mexico to stop anyone trying to sneak into the United States.

Traficant occasionally flirted with the idea of running for a different office. He formed a committee to explore a presidential bid in April 1987, and managed to get enough votes to send a single delegate to the Democratic National Convention. He ended this effort a year later, pledging the delegate to support Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts. After winning a fourth term to the House of Representatives in 1994, he said he was considering whether to run in Ohio's gubernatorial or Senate race in 1998.

Traficant earned plenty of criticism in the late 1980s and early 1990s when he came to the defense of two men accused of war crimes during World War II. He first offered a vocal defense of John Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian-born retired Ohio autoworker. Demjanjuk was accused of being a notoriously cruel guard, nicknamed "Ivan the Terrible," at the Treblinka death camp. Extradited to Israel in 1986, he was convicted two years later and sentenced to death. The Israeli Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1993 after determining that there was insufficient evidence to convict Demjanjuk, and Traficant claimed his appeal had led to the reexamination of the case. He flew to Israel to accompany Demjanjuk back to the United States. Demjanjuk's case would persist for almost another 20 years; he was later deported to Germany, convicted of war crimes, and died in 2012 while the case was under appeal.

Traficant with John Demjanjuk on a flight back to the United States in 1993

Arthur Rudolph also earned Traficant's sympathy. Rudolph had also been accused of abusing prisoners while working as a Nazi rocket scientist, although he was later admitted into the United States and worked with NASA on the Apollo program. In 1984, he surrendered his citizenship and left the country as part of an agreement with the U.S. government, ultimately ending up in West Germany. In May 1990, Traficant angered the Jewish community when he said that Rudolph should be allowed to return to the United States and that a "powerful Jewish lobby" was trying to intimidate government officials.

Traficant's contentious relationship with the Democrats continued in Congress. A January 1998 analysis of his voting record found that he had gone against his own party 77 percent of the time. He voted against Clinton's budget in May 1993, but did not support impeachment of the President in 1998. Traficant also held pro-life views and was in favor of organized prayer in public schools. After the massacre at Columbine High School in 1998, he called for an end to the constitutional ban on school prayer, saying, "People who pray together are not likely to kill one another."

The Democrats tolerated Traficant's maverick ways until early 2001. The elections of 2000 had demonstrated just how divided the nation was in terms of political opinions. In addition to the controversial presidential election, where Republican candidate George W. Bush was sent to the White House after a Supreme Court decision to end a ballot recount in Florida, both chambers of Congress were split almost evenly between the major political parties. The Republicans continued to hold a majority, although it had dwindled to seven seats.

On January 3, 2001, the members of the House of Representatives cast their votes for Speaker of the House. The Republicans put forth Dennis Hastert of Illinois while the Democrats backed Dick Gephardt of Missouri. Traficant broke from his party and supported Hastert, earning him a standing ovation from the Republican representatives. He was the only Democrat to support Hastert, who chosen as Speaker with 221 votes.

Angered by Traficant's apostasy, the Democratic leadership kicked him out of the party caucus, stripped him of his seniority, and removed all of his committee assignments. The punishment made him the first rank-and-file congressman to serve without a committee assignment in almost a century. There was some speculation that Traficant would defect to the other side of the aisle, but he never did so. House Majority Leader Dick Armey later said that the GOP never offered Traficant a place in their caucus, and Traficant never requested one. "I have told Jim myself, and told him some time ago, it would not be in his best interest to join the Republican Party," Armey said in May 2001. "He doesn't get his mile of slack if he's a Republican, and Jim needs a mile of slack."

The Republicans may also have been reluctant to extend an invitation to a congressman who seemed to be on the verge of a criminal indictment. Several of Traficant's associates had been convicted in a far-ranging investigation in eastern Ohio, and observers suggested that it would only be a matter of time before they charged him.

Organized crime had once again provided the impetus for the investigation. Paul Gains, a newly elected prosecutor in Mahoning County who had ousted an incumbent with mob ties, was shot three times at his home and left for dead on Christmas Eve of 1996. Investigators began unraveling a web of corrupt activities, with the first indictments coming down in December 1997. More than 70 people would ultimately be convicted, including the former Mahoning County prosecutor, a sheriff, and several local businessmen. The FBI subpoenaed Traficant's payroll records and other information in December 1999, and began questioning people about possible unpaid perks offered to the congressman two months later.

As a result of the looming charges, Traficant had faced a tougher than expected challenge in the 2000 election. Robert Hagan, a state senator and one of the challengers in the Democratic primary, mounted an especially spirited offense. He accused Traficant of alienating people with his off-color behavior, driving businesses out of Youngstown, and failing to adequately represent his district. Hagan also happened to be the brother-in-law of Kate Mulgrew, an actress on Star Trek: Voyager. He capitalized on this coincidence by recruiting her for his TV ads to play on Traficant's catchphrase. Democratic voters in Youngstown were urged by Captain Janeway herself to "beam out" Traficant.

Traficant had triumphed in the March primary, but only came away with 51 percent of the vote. He had won the general election by a similarly tight margin, with about 50 percent of the voters favoring him in a three-way race.

These victories were all the more remarkable in that they occurred as several of Traficant's associates were being convicted. Two of his former aides, George M. Alexander and Charles O'Nesti, pleaded guilty shortly before the primary to racketeering conspiracy related to former Youngstown mob boss Lenine Strollo. Traficant, realizing that a case was likely forming against him, accused the federal government of targeting him because he had a pending bill supporting an investigation of the FBI's botched raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. In August 2000, he ignored a court order to turn over pertinent information.

In October, contractor A. David Sugar was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering after admitting to lying to a federal grand jury. Sugar had told his secretary to lie about fake invoices related to work done at Traficant's Ohio farm. Another person who had done work at this site, Clarence T. Broad, pleaded guilty in November to trying to influence a federal witness.

Traficant was indicted on May 4, 2001, on 10 counts. The charges, unrelated to the assassination attempt on Gains, included bribery, fraud, racketeering, and tax evasion. Prosecutors charged that the congressman had demanded monthly kickbacks of as much as $2,500 from his employees in order for them to keep their jobs. Staffers had also been ordered to do personal work for Traficant, including baling hay at his farm and doing upkeep on a Potomac River houseboat where the congressman had formerly lived while in Washington, D.C. In addition, he was accused of promising favors for businessmen who gave him free items and services, including the use of a Corvette and Avanti luxury car and the construction of a pole barn on his farm. In one instance, Traficant had helped businessman John J. Cafaro win approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for a laser guidance technology developed by Cafaro's company; Cafaro had rewarded him with a gift of thousands of dollars to pay off and repair Traficant's houseboat.

Photo detail
Traficant's mugshot, dated May 11, 2001, following his indictment

The case went to trial in February 2002 in Cleveland. Once again, Traficant opted to represent himself instead of hiring professional counsel, and the courtroom was not immune from the bizarre behavior he often exhibited in Congress. After an FBI agent said none of Traficant's associates was asked to wear a hidden microphone because the congressman often hugged them and slapped them on the back, Traficant asked almost every witness, "Did I ever hug you?" He repeated other questions dozens of times, described the prosecution as having "the testicles of an ant," directly accused one witness of lying under oath, and objected to any IRS testimony since they represented "thieves who prey upon the American people." Traficant said he engaged in these antics because he considered the courtroom a "theater," but later chalked it up to inexperience; he was not a lawyer, he pointed out, but rather the "son of a truck driver."

On April 12, after 10 weeks of testimony, Traficant was convicted on all counts. He quickly blamed the trial process, complaining about the jurors from the Cleveland area. He had tried unsuccessfully for a change of venue or to get a jury of only Youngstown residents. "Very few people on this jury really knew Jim Traficant or had an understanding of Jim Traficant. I think that would have made a big difference," he declared. Indeed, Traficant continued to enjoy a great deal of support at home. Youngstown area radio show host Dan Ryan fielded several calls from residents after the conviction, many of whom defended the congressman; one said that plenty of other politicians took bribes, and that Traficant's misbehavior was paltry by comparison.

Five days after the verdict, the House Committee on Standards and Official Conduct met to determine a punishment for the convicted congressman. Traficant asked committee chairman Joel Hefley, a Colorado Republican, to "go light." But he also put his typical devil-may-care attitude on display. He complained that there was no coffee available at the hearings, threatened to call for the expulsion of all committee members, and said he'd like to kick his prosecutors in the crotch. The committee found Traficant guilty of nine ethics violation and, on July 18, 2002, made the unanimous recommendation that he be expelled.


In Ohio, both political parties welcomed the news. A Democratic spokeswoman said the party had had nothing to do with Traficant for the past two years. Jason Mauk, speaking for the state's Republican Party, declared, "It's embarrassing to think that Jim Traficant is the national face of Ohio politics right now."

Typically, congressmen subject to a criminal conviction or other scandal decides to resign before Congress can take any punitive action. Only four congressmen had been expelled from the House of Representatives prior to the recommended action against Traficant. Three had been thrown out during the Civil War, for fighting on behalf of the Confederacy while representing border states of the Union. The fourth, Democratic Representative Michael Myers of Pennsylvania, was expelled after his conviction in the Abscam scandal in 1980.

Even when faced with prison time and joining this none-too-appealing club, Traficant remained jocular. He suggested that he would go to the proceedings in a denim suit and show off his impression of Michael Jackson's moonwalk on the floor of Congress.

On July 24, the House took up the expulsion measure. Anticipating a harangue from Traficant, Speaker Hastert opened the proceedings by reminding members about the rules against abusive language. The warning did little to temper the rambling statement offered by Traficant. He claimed that the witnesses had a grudge against him, but also accused the government into coercing their testimony, crying, "I'll go to jail. But I'll be damned if I'll be pressured by a government that pressured these witnesses to death." Traficant suggested that the federal judge at his trial had been hostile and that Attorney General Janet Reno, whom he had accused of treason in August 2000, was trying to oust him. He also referenced his infamous hair, saying he cut it with a weed whacker.

Representative Steven C. LaTourette, an Ohio Republican, suggested that the motion on Traficant's expulsion should be delayed until September. He said this action would allow for Traficant's sentencing to take place and for his legal motions on the matter to be heard. The suggestion won a fair amount of support, mostly from Republicans, but was defeated in a 146-285 vote.

When it came to Traficant's arguments, his fellow congressmen had little sympathy. Those who made statements denounced him for bringing dishonor to the House, and suggested that to believe his defense was to put credence in an absurd conspiracy that involved the IRS, FBI, U.S. Attorney's Office, and a federal judge all colluding to bring him down.

A two-thirds majority was needed for expulsion, but the final tally was nearly unanimous. A total of 420 representatives voted in favor of Traficant's expulsion, with only one congressman opposed. The lone dissenter was Gary Condit of California, who was embroiled in a scandal of his own. Condit had admitted to an affair with Chandra Levy, a young intern from his district, but only after repeated questioning related to her disappearance in May 2001; Levy's body had been found in May 2002, and her death was ruled a homicide. Condit was a lame duck congressman by the time of Traficant's expulsion, having lost the Democratic primary in March.

Six days after he was thrown out of Congress, Traficant was sentenced to eight years in prison. At the time, it was the longest sentence ever imposed on a congressman, extending nine months longer than the minimum sentence recommended by prosecutors. Judge Lesley Brooks Wells said she added the extra time because Traficant had undermined the respect for his office and shown himself to be dishonest. She also ordered him to pay more than $250,000 in penalties, including a $150,000 fine, the forfeiture of $96,000 of unreported income from staffer kickbacks, and a $1,000 special assessment.

Wells referenced Traficant's congressional record at the sentencing, declaring, "You've done a lot of good in your years in Congress...The good you have done does not excuse you of the crime you were convicted of." Referring to Traficant's frequent promises that he would fight the charges like a "junkyard dog," Wells declared, "The truth, sir, is rarely in you. You were howling that you were going to fight like a junkyard dog in the eye of a hurricane, and you did fight that way, to protect a junkyard full of deceit and corruption and greed."

Since the judge refused to let Traficant remain free on bail while he appealed his case, he immediately began his time behind bars. "I committed no crime. I regret nothing I said," he declared, saying he intended to run for re-election in the 2002 race while incarcerated. It was only when he reported to prison that his famous hairdo was revealed to be a toupee. Traficant had to remove the hairpiece during a routine inmate search, and was informed that he wouldn't be able to wear it while in federal prison.

As promised, Traficant entered the 2002 race as an independent candidate. He managed to get 15 percent of the vote, but lost to Democratic candidate Tim Ryan, a state senator and former aide to Traficant. Despite his conviction, Traficant was able to start collecting an annual pension of about $40,000 after turning 62 in 2003. In June 2008, a federal judge ordered $250 to be deducted from his $1,037.79 a month state pension to go toward his fine. Traficant started his sentence at the Allenwood Federal Correctional Complex in Pennsylvania, then served the remainder at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota, after he was transferred due to an undisclosed medical or mental health issue.

An appeals court upheld Traficant's conviction in March 2004. The Supreme Court refused to hear his case in January 2005. Traficant took up painting and began creating scenes of horses and barns. At one point, he allegedly wrote a letter which renewed his claim that the federal government had sought retribution against him. He claimed that his conviction was punishment for his appeal on Demjanjuk's defense and because he "[knew] the facts" about the FBI sieges at Waco and Ruby Ridge, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, and the disappearance of union leader Jimmy Hoffa.

The letter surfaced on the website of David Duke, a white nationalist and former KKK grand wizard. Traficant had won the affection of white nationalists for his defense of Demjanjuk and Rudolph, and Duke appealed to his followers to send monetary donations to Traficant's wife, Tish, or his prison canteen fund. Tish downplayed Duke's appeal, saying her husband had no control over where his letter was circulating. Michael Collins Piper, a conspiracy theorist who first posted the letter and contribution information, also denied that Traficant represented the views of white nationalists. "There's stuff I've written about Traficant that's showing up in places I don't even know," he said. "It's like six degrees of separation with the Internet now." After Traficant's death, Duke would post a "Tribute to Jim Traficant and his Opposition to Jewish Supremacism."

In September 2009, after serving seven years of his sentence, Traficant was freed. He received a warm welcome in his hometown. An appreciation dinner was scheduled, and the theme of the local minor league baseball team's next game was "Traficant Release Night." Traficant remained on probation for the next three years. In January 2010, he got a part-time gig as a talk show host on the AM radio station WTAM.

James A. Traficant Jr.
Traficant and wife Tish at an appreciation dinner held after his release from prison

Traficant continued to maintain his innocence. At one point, referring to himself in the third person, he declared, "Seven people said they bribed him. They never had no crime against Traficant. They taped every phone call he ever made, probably. Since 1983." He was vocal in his disdain for both the Democrats and Republicans and also sounded off against targets such as the IRS, Justice Department, Socialists, and illegal immigrants. These diatribes caught the attention of the Tea Party, the conservative movement that formed after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, and Traficant was invited to speak at several of their events around Youngstown.

In May 2010, Traficant announced that he would try to recapture his seat in Congress in the year's election. Since his imprisonment, his district had been split in half. Ryan continued to serve in one, while the other seat was filled by Democrat John Boccieri. Traficant opted to challenge Ryan as an independent candidate, with a platform that largely sought to restrict government power. He said he would attempt to repeal the 16th Amendment, which allows Congress to levy an income tax; abolish the IRS, Department of Energy, Department of Education, and Social Security; eliminate corporation and Medicare taxes; deport all illegal immigrants and station troops at the Mexican border; and free all prisoners convicted of non-violent crimes.

Traficant managed to get his name on the ballot for the general election. He again garnered a significant but insufficient portion of the vote, with 16 percent of the electorate favoring him. Ryan won re-election and continues to serve in the House of Representatives to this day. After the loss, Traficant seemed content to stay out of the spotlight.

On September 23, 2014, Traficant was driving a vintage tractor into a pole barn at his daughter's farm in Greenford, Ohio, when it struck an obstacle and overturned on top of him. There were suggestions that he had suffered a heart attack before the accident, but a pathologist later determined that the weight of the tractor had restricted Traficant's ability to breathe. He died on September 27 in a hospital in Poland, Ohio.

Traficant remains a polarizing figure. In February 2006, more than 300 people attended a town hall style debate in Youngstown to discuss whether he had been good or bad for the region. Traficant's supporters lauded his ability to challenge the Washington norms, while his opponents saw him as a corrupt and clownish figure who had impeded progress in his district. "His passing is obviously the passing of a political icon in Mahoning Valley," said Robert Hagan, Traficant's former political opponent. "Good, bad, or indifferent, he had an incredible amount of charisma."

Sources: The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, "Sheriff's Slaying Tip-Off Probed" in the Pittsburgh Press on Oct. 24 1981, "Prisoner Kills Deputy Near Youngstown" in the Daily Kent Stater on Oct. 29 1981, "Sheriff Who Failed to Act in Foreclosures Sentenced" in the Toledo Blade on Feb. 17 1983, "Lashing Out" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jun. 2 1983, "In Fighting Form" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jul. 2 1983, "The Mafia and the Congressman" in the Washington Weekly on Apr. 19 1985, "Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio, Facing Federal Charges of Tax Evasion," reported by UPI on Nov. 13 1986, "Congressman Defending Scientist Who is Suspected in War Crimes" in the New York Times on May 15 1990, "Traficant Relishes Bad Boy Role" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Mar. 1 2000, "Rep. James Traficant Indicted on Racketeering" in The Item on May 4 2001, "U.S. Charges Traficant, Colorful Ohio Congressman, With Taking Bribes" in the New York Times on May 5 2001, "Armey: GOP Doesn't Want Traficant" in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal on May 8 2001, "Now Playing: Traficant Probe 2001, The Sequel" in the Youngstown Vindicator on May 23 2001, "Traficant Guilt OK to Some Voters" in the Star-News on Apr. 15 2002, "Panel Says Traficant Violated Ethics Rules" in the Daily News on Jul. 18 2002, "House Panel Votes to Expel Maverick Congressman" in the Spokesman-Review on Jul. 19 2002, "House Votes, With Lone Dissent From Condit, to Expel Traficant From Ranks" in the New York Times on Jul. 25 2002, "Traficant Begins Eight-Year Sentence; Expects Re-Election to House From Jail" in the Boca Raton News on Jul. 30 2002, "Bad Hair Day For Traficant" in the Associated Press on Oct. 29 2002, "'Welcome Home, Jimbo' Countdown" in the Youngstown Vindicator on Aug. 9 2009, "White Nationalists, Conspiracy Theorists Join Traficant Cause" on TribToday.com on Aug. 30 2009, "The Life and Trials of James A. Traficant Jr." in The Vindicator on Sep. 2 2009, "Traficant Lands a Part-Time Job on Radio" in the Youngstown Vindicator on Jan. 5 2010, "Tea Party Hero Jim Traficant: Could Ex-Con Return to Congress?" in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on May 2 2010, "America's Fastest Shrinking City: The Story of Youngstown, Ohio," published by The Hampton Institute on Jun. 18 2013, "Ex. Rep. Jim Traficant is Seriously Injured in Tractor Accident" in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Sep. 24 2014, "James A. Traficant Jr., Colorful Ohio Congressman Expelled by House, Dies at 73" in the Washington Post on Sep. 27 2014, "James Traficant Jr., Expelled From Congress in 2002, Dies at 73" in the Los Angeles Times on Sep. 27 2014, "James Traficant Jr., Cast Out by Congress in Bribery Case, Dies at 73" in the New York Times on Sep. 27 2014, "Jim Traficant Dies at 73" in Politico on Sep. 27 2014, "Ex-Congressman Jim Traficant Dies of Injuries Suffered From a Tractor Accident at Daughter's Farm" in the Cleveland Plains Dealer on Sep. 27 2014, "Former Rep. Traficant Didn't Have Heart Attack, Seizure Before Tractor Death, Pathologist Says" in the Cleveland Plains Dealer on Sep. 30 2014, Remembering the Cruelest Month: The Network, Labor, and Haunting of the Memories of Columbine by Stephanie Jean Stillman, Political Scandals: The Consequences of Temporary Gratification by La Trice M. Washington

Saturday, March 5, 2016

James F. Hastings: skimming off the top

Source: bioguide.congress.gov



Political gridlock was one of the reasons James Fred Hastings cited for his decision to resign from the House of Representatives at the beginning of 1976. As a moderate Republican from a small city in western New York, he felt that he had not been able to make much of a mark on national politics. Moreover, he didn't believe that Congress had made much meaningful progress toward resolving the most pressing issues of the day.

"I came up to age 49 without having a great deal to show for it," Hastings said. "Taking a look at the next 12 to 14 years of productive life, I decided I couldn't spend it here under the circumstances and frustrations I see in this legislative body."

Another reason for his resignation, Hastings admitted, had to do with his finances. Between maintaining his home in New York and serving in Washington, he said he had run up $19,000 in debt. He would be moving on to a job as president of Associated Industries, an Albany-based lobbying organization representing more than 2,000 businesses in the state. The post came with a higher salary than he was earning as a congressman.

Before the year was over, a federal court would charge Hastings with an entirely different type of financial trouble. He had hardly had difficulty with his accounts while in Congress, prosecutors accused. Rather, he had skimmed money from his employees for personal luxuries.

Hastings was born on April 10, 1926, in Olean, New York. He joined the Navy during World War II, becoming part of flight squadrons between 1943 and 1946. After the war, he worked as a union carpenter from 1947 to 1950, then as a sales representative for Proctor and Gamble for two years. He joined the radio station WHDL as sales manager in 1952, and served as station manager from 1959 to 1966. Hastings also dabbled in real estate as a partner in the firm Hastings & Jewell and held the job of national advertising manager at the Olean Times Herald from 1964 to 1966.

During most of his career in radio, Hastings also held local and state political posts. He was a member of the Allegany Town Board from 1953 to 1962, and served as a village justice during the same period. He was then elected to the New York state assembly, serving from 1963 to 1965, before transferring to the state senate and serving through 1968.

Hastings' move to national politics was prompted by the death of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. At the time of his death, Kennedy was running for the Democratic nomination for President. Following his victory in the California primary on June 5, 1968, Kennedy was shot three times by an assassin; he died the next day. Governor Nelson Rockefeller appointed Representative Charles Goodell, a Republican, to fill Kennedy's vacant Senate seat. Hastings was chosen as the Republican nominee for the open House of Representatives seat left by Goodell's appointment, and defeated Democratic candidate Wilbur White in the year's general election.

The district was happy enough with Hastings' service that it sent him back to Washington in the next three elections. However, as he mentioned in his remarks about his decision to resign, he never truly distinguished himself. The Milwaukee Journal commented that he had established himself as "a hard worker and an expert on such important - if unglamorous - issues as health, transportation, and the environment." One of his more noticeable actions involved the co-sponsorship of a bill to repeal the earnings limitation on the Social Security Act.

Following his resignation, the remainder of Hastings' term was put to a special election. Stanley Ludine, the mayor of the nearby city of Jamestown, earned 54,743 votes to GOP candidate John T. Calkins' total of 34,491. Ludine was the first Democrat from the Olean area to be sent to Congress in 106 years. He would go on to serve 10 years in the House before becoming lieutenant governor to Mario Cuomo.

Hastings quickly began to weigh in on state proposals. One month after his resignation, he announced Associated Industries' opposition to an attempt to increase New York unemployment benefits. The proposal was unrealistic, Hastings charged, and would cause businesses to leave the state. The Empire State Chamber of Commerce, Council of Merchants, and New York Chamber of Commerce and Industry joined him in opposition.

Only a few months later, the news broke that Hastings was under investigation. In June, a Justice Department source confirmed that it was looking into payroll records related to four people who had worked for Hastings while he was in Congress. Since the investigation was taking place at the same time that Wayne Hays was under scrutiny for accusations that his secretary was essentially paid to be his mistress, the source assured the press that Hastings' case did "not involve girls."

On September 21, Hastings was indicted on 26 counts of of mail fraud and nine counts of making false statements to the House Finance office. Hastings was accused of manipulating the salaries of three employees while in Congress, giving them salary increases but ordering them to transfer this extra cash to his own account. The case went to trial in December.

The prosecution's case rested chiefly on the testimony of Claire Bradley, who had worked as Hastings' executive secretary during his time in the House. Bradley said that Hastings had increased her salary by $360 a month, starting in May 1969. At the same time, however, he wanted Bradley to give back this amount so he could pay into a New York state retirement fund. Bradley testified that the congressman told her this kind of arrangement was common between members of Congress and their employees. She complied for more than a year, considering it to be a loan, but eventually realized that Hastings was running a kickback scheme. She stopped deferring part of her salary to Hastings after August 1971, although she agreed to make a $1,736 tuition payment for his sons' college education in August 1972.

After Hastings announced he was resigning, Bradley sought to get her money back. She outlined the payments she had made to her boss over the years and calculated that he owed her about $12,000. When Hastings did not respond, she consulted with an attorney. Bradley said that Hastings apologized to her on January 19, his second to last day in office, but told her that he would not be giving back any of the money he had taken from her. He also allegedly threatened to ruin her employment prospects if she sought legal action against him, saying, "I can fix all this tomorrow by not recommending you for any other job."

Investigators had also determined that Hastings had received personal benefits from Leonard Jones, an auto dealer and part-time district representative for Hastings, as well as a chauffeur named David Walden. Jones had returned more than $6,000 in payments Hastings made on cars purchased at his dealership. Walden said he used the approximately $9,000 in extra payments received from Hastings to pay the congressman's bills at a marina on Rushford Lake in New York. Joseph Hirsch, manager of RK Marina, said Hastings had purchased three boats and two snowmobiles from him.

During the trial, Hastings' defense argued that the payments to Hastings had been loans rather than kickbacks. They also called five character witnesses, including Republican Senator Lowell Weicker of Connecticut.

The jury was not convinced. On December 17, they found Hastings guilty of 20 counts of mail fraud and eight counts of making false statements. He declined to appeal the verdict and resigned from Associated Industries.

At his sentencing on January 31, 1977, Hastings asked that the court take his productive life into consideration. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Kotelly asked the court to disregard this consideration, saying Hastings should not get special treatment simply because of his position. "We feel a double standard should not exist where a person who commits a street crime gets a heavy sentence while a person who commits a white collar crime gets a light sentence," said Kotelly.

U.S. District Court Judge June L. Green said she had received several letters from constituents who praised Hastings' work. However, he was also irked by those who believed kickback schemes were a common practice among congressmen, and that Hastings should not be punished harshly. She said such justifications were an affront to all honest officials, and that Hastings' sentence should "put on notice" anyone who was engaged in similar behavior. "You were elected to a position with grave national responsibilities," said Green. "The conduct for which you have been found guilty constituted a violation of that public trust."

Hastings was ordered to serve between 20 months and five years in prison. He was released after 14 months, and retired to Belleair Beach, Florida. After living there for 21 years, Hastings returned to New York to be closer to his family. He died on October 24, 2014, in Allegany.

Sources: The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, "Hastings Nominated" in the Evening News on Sep. 23 1968, "Accent on the News" in the Milwaukee Journal on Jan. 7 1976, "Worker Benefits Plan Criticized" in the Evening News on Feb. 24 1976, "Defeat" in the Lakeland Ledger on Mar. 3 1976, "Former Congressman's Records To Be Released" in the Spokesman-Review on Jun. 10 1976, "Jurors Indict Former Legislator" in the Bangor Daily News on Sept. 22 1976, "Prosecution of Hastings is Completed" in the Observer-Reporter on Dec. 16 1976, "Secretary to Hastings Testifies To A Kickback" in the New York Times on Dec. 16 1976, "Deliberations Begin at Kickbacks Trial" in the Bangor Daily News on Dec. 17 1976, "Former N.Y. Congressman is Convicted by Jury" in the Bryan Times on Dec. 18 1976, "Ex-Solon May Face Jail Time" in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Dec. 18 1976, "Hastings Convicted, Quits Post" in the Observer-Reporter on Dec. 20 1976, "Ex-Congressman Sentenced for Taking Kickbacks" in the Observer-Reporter on Feb. 1 1977, "James F. Hastings Obituary" in the Olean Times Herald on Oct. 27 2014, "Former Rep. James F. Hastings Remembered as Good Public Servant" in the Olean Times Herald on Oct. 28 2014

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Jack C. Walton: general incompetence versus Invisible Empire


On the surface, Governor John Calloway Walton's term as governor of Oklahoma bears a strong resemblance to that of former North Carolina Governor William Woods Holden. Both men tried to stop the violent depredations of the Ku Klux Klan in their state. Both men used martial law as a potent weapon against the masked vigilantes. And both Walton and Holden were accused of abusing their power and thrown out of office.

But while Holden was pardoned by the North Carolina legislature 140 years after his impeachment, it is unlikely that Walton will ever enjoy a similar posthumous vindication. His fight against the Klan was seen both at the time and through the lens of history as a politically rather than morally motivated action. Walton even had some personal ties to the organization. Moreover, the effort to expel him from office ultimately focused on malfeasance that was unconnected to his campaign against the Klan.

Walton was born in Indianapolis on March 6, 1881. As a child, he moved with his family to Lincoln, Nebraska, and later to Arkansas. Details on his early life are somewhat scarce; even the Oklahoma Historical Society describes them as "sketchy and convoluted." He traveled extensively as a young man, reportedly working as a railroad employee, electrical engineer, and traveling salesman. Walton also served in the Army's field artillery during the Spanish-American War, graduated from the Fort Smith Commercial College in Arkansas, and spent some time living in Mexico and studying engineering.

In 1903, Walton moved to Oklahoma City and began working as a civil engineer and contractor. He formed the McIntosh and Walton Engineering Company with a partner in 1913, and served as a colonel in the Engineering Corps during World War I.

Walton's political career began when he was elected to serve as a public works commissioner of Oklahoma City. He held this post from 1917 to 1919. He won the 1919 mayoral election in Oklahoma City by 50,000 votes, the largest majority in the state's history at the time. He was a supporter of progressive ideals such as women's suffrage, a 40-hour work week, and public ownership of utilities. Walton was even rumored to be so liberal on the issue of race relations that he was a regular at black jazz clubs.

The city's police proved to be a significant obstacle to Walton, so he became actively involved in their work. When the police chief said he wouldn't enforce the Prohibition laws, Walton personally led raids against speakeasies and other illegal establishments. He forbade police officers from joining the Ku Klux Klan and, in one remarkable case, ordered a 10-year-old boy to be whipped for disrespecting a 13-year-old black girl.

Walton's actions as mayor caught the attention of the Farmer-Labor Reconstruction League, which was formed in September 1921. This political party generally worked as a progressive force within the Democratic Party, although many members were former Republicans and Socialists. The party was particularly impressed when Walton actively supported a strike by a meat packers' union, providing them with food and refusing to extend police protection to the owners of the packing plants.

This stance put him on the wrong side of the local chamber of commerce, especially after the lynching of a black man named Jake Brooks in January 1922. After crossing a picket line during the meat packers' strike, Brooks was dragged from his home, shot, and hanged. The chamber of commerce demanded a declaration of martial law to prevent further unrest; Walton opposed such an action, declaring that the organization was "killing the city by their promotion of labor strife, and wanting to finish the job by declaring martial law." Though the murder had been made to look like the work of the KKK, responsibility was soon fixed on several members of the meat packers' union; the Klan even offered to help break the strike and remove Walton from office.

As the 1922 election approached, the Farmer-Labor Reconstruction League chose Walton as their nominee for the Democratic Party's gubernatorial candidate. He faced two more conservative men for the nomination: Thomas H. Owen, a former chief justice of the state supreme court, and Robert H. Wilson, the state superintendent of public instruction. The Klan favored either Owen or Wilson to Walton, and ultimately endorsed Wilson. But in the Democratic primary, Walton earned 119,504 votes to Wilson's 84,569 and Owen's 64,229.

The results caused a rift among Democratic voters, as the more conservative members could not stomach the idea of supporting Walton's more progressive ideas. These voters threw their support behind John Fields, the Republican candidate for governor and editor of the Oklahoma Farmer, in a coalition dubbed the Constitutional Democratic Club. Many Klansmen undoubtedly backed Fields over Walton, but a large number likely opted to support the Democratic candidate after Wilson endorsed Walton.

Walton gained popularity with a lively campaign across the state in which he promised to advocate for the working man. He was a gifted orator, and turned heads by taking a black jazz band along to play at his events. "Jazz Band Jack" was one of several nicknames Walton earned in his life, along with "Iron Jack" and "Our Jack." In the general election, Walton triumphed with 280,206 votes to Fields' 230,469. The margin of victory was the largest one in a governor's race in Oklahoma up to that point.

During his campaign, Walton had vowed that the entire state's population would be invited to an enormous barbecue celebration if he won the election. His critics would say this was the only campaign promise Walton managed to keep. On his inauguration day on January 9, 1923, so many people took part in the parade to the ceremony that the procession stretched on for 16 miles. The Oklahoma State Fairgrounds became the seat of a massive feast. A vast selection of food—beef, chicken, turkey, deer, even three bears and 134 opossums—were cooked on roasting pits that covered more than a mile. The Oklahoma City Fire Department brought out its fire engines to supply the water needed to brew 8,000 gallons of coffee. An estimated 300,000 people attended the event.


An overhead view of the barbecue celebrating Walton's inauguration (Source)

Walton favored a Farmer-Labor Reconstruction League program, but had little chance of getting these initiatives approved. The majority of the state legislature was conservative, and Walton's major goals—including a state bank, state insurance system, and a soldiers' bonus—never came to pass. Walton was credited with overseeing a more modest set of reforms such as the expansion of a farm cooperative program, the establishment of licenses for farmers' community market associations, improvements to welfare and Workman's Compensation benefits, strengthened laws for the inspection of warehouses, stronger laws for banking violation, a free textbook law, and $1 million in school aid.

In order to curry more favor with the conservative legislators, many of whom were members of the KKK, Walton met with several prominent members of the organization. Shortly after his inauguration, the governor was designated as a "Klansman at Large." This title was given to public officials who wanted their membership in the organization to be kept secret. Walton's attempts to satisfy both the progressive and conservative members of the legislature was one of the contributing factors to his downfall, as neither side was won over by his actions. There was speculation that Walton was already looking ahead to a Senate run or even a presidential campaign in 1924, and that he was moving away from his more radical stances to try to appeal to a broader pool of voters.

Several other actions also led to criticism of Walton's handling of the state's affairs. He was strongly opposed to the death penalty, and vowed that no prisoner would be executed while he was in office. The governor's critics were especially alarmed by his liberal use of pardons and paroles. Between his inauguration and October 1923, Walton racked up 253 acts of executive clemency. Twenty-nine of the prisoners benefiting from these actions were convicted murderers, and one was pardoned after Walton asked a state fair crowd if he thought the man had been punished enough for his crime. There were suspicions that bribes were aiding Walton's actions, though he was never officially charged with this malfeasance.

Walton was heavily criticized for pursuing the appointment of friends and allies to state posts. He pressured Dr. Stratton Brooks to resign as president of the University of Oklahoma, removing five regents at the school and replacing them with his supporters after Brooks left for the University of Missouri. In one of his more notorious acts of patronage, Walton ousted Dr. James B. Eskridge from his presidency at the Oklahoma A&M College in Stillwater and replaced him with George Wilson. The action was so unpopular that Wilson had to be escorted onto the campus under National Guard protection amidst protests by angry students and faculty. Wilson was the head of the Farmer-Labor Reconstruction League and had served as one of Walton's advisers, but he didn't even hold a bachelor's degree. Walton would ultimately remove Wilson from his new position before his term was up.

The purchase of a mansion in Oklahoma City also caused many to question whether Walton was trading his official influence for favors. The governor had purchased the property with the assistance of Ernest W. Marland, a wealthy oil man. Walton paid $18,000 in cash to the home's owner, Walter D. Caldwell, along with six $5,000 notes. Caldwell sold these notes to Marland, an action which critics said left the mayor obligated to Marland's oil interests.

Walton charged that the Ku Klux Klan was behind the hostility towards him, and he would go to war with the organization just six months into his term. Given his earlier meetings with KKK officials, this decision was likely influenced at least in part by political expediency; by taking on the masked vigilantes, Walton could regain his popularity and perhaps ride the ensuing wave of support to higher office.

Ku Klux Klan members gather in Drumright, Oklahoma, in 1922 (Source)

The KKK had become more prominent in several areas of the nation after World War I, and it had a particularly strong presence in Oklahoma. In the early 1920s, membership in the state was estimated to be between 90,000 and 200,000, or as many as one in every 20 residents. Klansmen were influential members in many communities around the state, including the police departments and local governments. David Mark Chalmers, author of the book Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan, says the Klan in Oklahoma was "less concerned with crime than personal behavior and, many said, personal vengeance." Chalmers says most victims were white Protestants, including young men and women caught riding in cars together, bootleggers, a man opposed to a school bond issue they apparently favored, and both a man who had deserted his wife and the woman he ran off with.

Klansmen typically kidnapped a person, took them to a remote location, and whipped them. The Klan would also tar and feather, mutilate, assault, and sometimes murder their victims. Those subjected to these abuses rarely reported them; they were either afraid of reprisals or certain that the local officials were themselves part of the KKK. When a case did get to court, the juries usually acquitted anyone charged with the vigilante behavior.

A horrific race riot in 1921 provided another boost to Klan membership. The inciting incident occurred on a Tulsa elevator on May 30 between a teenage black shoe shiner named Dick Rowland and a white female elevator operator named Sarah Page. Rowland accidentally stepped on Page's foot or grabbed her arm after tripping, causing her to scream. Police arrested Rowland after he fled the elevator, and rumors alleged that he had tried to rape Page. The Tulsa Tribune ran an inflammatory editorial entitled "To Lynch a Negro Tonight" on May 31; an armed mob of white citizens assembled to try to kidnap Rowland from the courthouse, where he was under police protection. Black citizens, also armed, also went to the courthouse to defend Rowland against the lynch mob. Shots were fired, and the riot began.

The violence lasted only 24 hours, but it had a profound effect. White rioters targeted the Greenwood District, a successful black residential neighborhood and business district in Tulsa nicknamed "Black Wall Street." Buildings were looted and burned, reducing the thriving neighborhood to ruins and leaving most of Tulsa's black residents homeless. There were reports that the attackers used a machine gun and dynamite thrown from airplanes to add to the bloodshed. Initial estimates held that as few as 36 people died in the riot, but historians now estimate that the death toll was closer to 300.

Even if his fight against the Klan had a political edge to it, Walton was likely sincere in his desire to stop the violent acts by the organization. He had already clashed with the Klan during his time as Oklahoma City's mayor, and as governor he learned the full extent of the KKK's brutality. His executive secretary, Aldrich Blake, estimated that there were 2,500 "whipping parties" operating in the state in 1922.

Walton first turned his sights on Okmulgee County, which he claimed had been the site of repeated mob incidents. On June 26, 1923, he placed the county under martial law and warned that he might take the same action in other counties. The county's sheriff, John Russell, considered Walton's action to be retaliation, since he had recently arrested two intoxicated men with state commissions from the governor. After only three days and a handful of arrests, the state of martial law ended.

After a quiet July, Walton surprised Tulsa County by placing this region under martial law on August 14. The governor took this action after learning that a Jewish man suspected of selling drugs had been severely beaten by Klansmen. The residents of the city of Tulsa were particularly incensed by Walton's order; martial law might be appropriate for a backwater region like Okmulgee County, they argued, but not for a sophisticated city like Tulsa.

This reasoning conveniently ignored the recent Tulsa race riot, as well as the prominence of the KKK in the city. Shortly after the riot, the Klan completed its "Klavern," an enormous assembly hall capable of holding up to 3,000 people; it was nicknamed "Beno Hall" by locals who joked that members wishing to join had to "Be no nigger, be no Jew, be no Catholic, be no immigrant." Of the 131 officially recorded incidents of Klan violence in Oklahoma between 1921 and 1924, 74 were in Tulsa County while only 20 were in Okmulgee County.

When the Tulsa World printed an advertisement calling on Klansmen to resist Walton's order, the governor stationed a censor at the newspaper. After hearing that a suspected black car thief had been brazenly kidnapped less than a block away from the military's headquarters in Tulsa, Walton declared absolute martial law in the county on August 20. Under absolute martial law, the National Guard's authority completely superseded that of the local officials. This action included a suspension of the right of habeas corpus, in violation of the state constitution.

Seeking to publicize the KKK's crimes, Walton convened a military court of inquiry to look into mob violence in Oklahoma. Hundreds of people offered testimony about the abuses they had suffered at the hands of Klansmen, mostly in incidents in 1922. A married couple, Joe and Annie Pike, said masked men had taken them from their Broken Bow home and flogged them for brewing a strong alcoholic beverage known as "Choctaw beer." They reported the incident to the police, but no one was ever punished.

An Oklahoma City laundry driver named Ellis R. Merriman testified that he had been kidnapped on March 7, 1922, by two men posing as police officers. He had been driven to a large gathering of Klansmen, accused of immorality with a young women, beaten with a rope, and told to leave town. Merriman returned to the city a month later and gave the names of 18 suspected attackers to the county attorney, who did nothing with the information. His employer also threatened to fire him if he did not leave the matter alone.

Merriman's testimony led to the arrest of KKK grand dragon N. Clay Jewett on September 21, 1923. One cohort testified that Jewett had been present at the gathering and personally assaulted Merriman. The arrest followed Jewett's boast that Walton and his allies would "never be able to break the power of the Ku Klux Klan in Oklahoma." Walton would not be able to bag Jewett, at any rate; the grand dragon's case was dismissed after he provided an alibi.

In one particularly gruesome case, a black deputy sheriff named John Smitherman told how he had been kidnapped from Tulsa on March 10, 1922. Smitherman said the mob accused him of registering black voters to cast their ballots against the city administration, as well as "ungentlemanly" conduct toward a white woman. After tying him to a tree, the Klansmen beat him severely and ordered him to leave the state. One of the men cut Smitherman's ear off and tried to force him to eat it.

"This is only one of the hundreds of such crimes committed, which the civil authorities of this state refused to cooperate," Walton said. "I ask the people of the civilized world, in the presence of this testimony, if I was not justified in proclaiming martial law in the city of Tulsa?"

Walton was clearly feeling confident in his offensive against the KKK. He claimed to have the ability to suspend habeas corpus under an 1871 law specifically designed to combat the Klan. He welcomed a federal probe into his actions, saying it would put a national spotlight on the KKK's outrages. Walton even encouraged Oklahoma's residents to use lethal force to defend themselves against the Klan if necessary. Referring to the Klavern, Walton declared, "I don't care if you burst right into them with a double-barreled shotgun. I'll promise you a pardon in advance."

Such statements did little to win supporters to Walton's cause, especially since most residents regarded the governor's actions as heavy-handed and dictatorial. The Oklahoma News issued an editorial saying that the state wanted "neither Klan nor king." There were rumors that Walton's war on the KKK was motivated mostly by his ambition to seek national office in 1924. The Daily Oklahoman suggested that Walton might even run for President, and dubbed his actions "a libel against the whole state." Walton said he believed vigilante violence would be an issue in the next national election, but declined to say whether he would run for the U.S. Senate on an anti-Klan platform.

The KKK remained nonplussed by the governor's actions. G.S. Long, a state representative from Tulsa and admitted member of the Klan, mocked the effectiveness of the martial law declaration by saying that 90 percent of the National Guardsmen were members of the organization. Long alleged that Jewett could order the soldiers to stand down, but that the grand dragon would take no such action. "The Klan oath is a re-dedication of man's loyalty to the constitution of Oklahoma, the constitution of the United States, the government of Oklahoma, the government of the United States," said Long. "And so long as Governor Walton exercises his authority as governor of Oklahoma, Klan members of the order will remain loyal to the orders of their commander-in-chief."

On September 15, 1923, Walton placed the entire state of Oklahoma under martial law and declared that he had full control of the state capitol buildings in Oklahoma City. Ostensibly, this action came after local officials failed to comply with an ultimatum. Walton had demanded the resignation of W.R. Sampson, the cyclops of the Muskogee KKK, as well as the resignation of Sampson's secretary. He also wanted the sheriff, police commissioner, and three members of the county jury commission in Tulsa County to step down. However, a grand jury was investigating Walton by this point and the declaration of statewide martial law also had the effect of preventing them from issuing an indictment.

Calls for the governor's impeachment intensified. His plummeting popularity was no doubt harmed even more when he announced that he was canceling the Oklahoma State Fair, since he felt it would interfere with the work of the National Guard. But the state legislature had little room to maneuver; there was no regular session scheduled, and the state constitution held that the legislators could only assemble for a special session while martial law was in effect if the governor asked them to do so.

On September 26, the state house of representatives tried to assemble anyway. Walton responded with a show of force. A machine gun was set up on the rooftop of a nearby building, its barrel pointed at the entrance to the state capitol; armed guards were posted at the doors. The governor, accusing the house of representatives of having 68 members who were part of the Klan, threatened to arrest any legislator who tried to assemble under martial law; it was even reported that he ordered the National Guard to "shoot to kill" any representative who defied his authority.

In a tense episode at the capitol, 66 members of the house of representatives squared off against the National Guard. Representative Wesley E. Disney, the chairman of the house's legal committee, called the body to order. The National Guard commander ordered them to disperse, and the representatives eventually departed. They continued to meet unofficially, trying to come up with a way to challenge Walton. Ten members of the state senate also held meetings at an Oklahoma City hotel, declaring that they would not make a decision on whether they would try to assemble until the courts made a ruling on whether the house of representatives could meet.

The legislators came up with an ingenious solution to get around the rules of assembly. A special election had already been scheduled for October 2 to allow Oklahoma's voters to weigh in on the veterans' bonus championed by Walton. A petition added a rider to the ballot, seeking a public decision on whether the legislature should be allowed to hold a special session. Walton tried to stop the balloting, and some election officials complied with his order to do so. Many voters likely stayed home to avoid potential violence at the polls. Nevertheless, nearly 300,000 people cast a ballot. They overwhelmingly authorized the special legislative session in a 209,452 to 70,638 vote. As an added rebuke to Walton, voters turned down the veterans' bonus. Martial law ended on October 5.

With impeachment looking almost certain, Walton made a last-ditch effort to achieve victory in his fight against the KKK. He called for a special session of the legislature on October 11, saying the purpose of the meeting should be to draft strong laws against the organization. If such legislation was passed, Walton offered, he would approve it and resign. The legislature refused to consider this proposal, though they promised that they would take action against the Klan after they had completed their work of investigating the governor.

On October 17, the house of representatives drafted 22 articles of impeachment against Walton. Six of them related to the governor's actions against the KKK, and Walton said he was prepared to introduce witnesses to testify about the Klan's terrorism. The house opted to simply drop those charges so the proceedings would focus more on other misconduct.

A rumor spread that Walton would take some drastic action before he was likely thrown out of office. Some worried that he would pardon the entire prison population at the state penitentiary at McAlester. On October 23, the house of representatives quickly voted to impeach Walton on two of the charges. The state senate concurred in a 36-1 vote, and Walton was suspended from office. The Oklahoma State Supreme Court upheld his removal in a 5-4 vote two days later.

Lieutenant Governor Martin E. Trapp assumed the duties of governor of Oklahoma. Ironically, he had faced impeachment proceedings of his own in 1921 due to allegations of corrupt bond contracts with Seminole County. Trapp had remained in office after the senate voted 27-16 to quash the charges.

Walton considered the impeachment proceedings to be little more than a kangaroo court, and made no effort to defend himself against the charges. On November 16, he appeared before the state senate and declared, "I don't wish to criticize any of these honorable members; some of them no doubt want to have a fair trial. But I have reached the conclusion that I cannot have a fair trial in this court. Knowing that, I am withdrawing from this room. I don't care to withstand this humiliation any longer for myself, my family, or my honorable attorneys. You may proceed as you see best."

The state senate needed to impeach Walton on only one of the 16 charges sent to them by the house of representatives to remove him from office, so the action was all but guaranteed. The senate voted to convict Walton on 11 issues. In some of them, all 41 senators present for the proceedings voted unanimously to convict. Walton was charged with illegally collecting excess campaign funds, padding the public payroll, putting his personal chauffeur on the state health department's payroll, using the National Guard to prevent the meeting of a grand jury, excessive use of pardons and paroles, illegal suspension of habeas corpus, issuing a deficiency certificate for the state health department when no deficiency existed, obstructing the legislature, and general incompetence. The five charges that were dismissed included accusations that Walton corruptly purchased his home, abrogated the death penalty, and appointed irresponsible people to the state police.

Walton was formally removed from office on November 19. He remains the shortest serving governor in Oklahoma, with only 10 months separating his inauguration and impeachment. Walton was also the first governor to be impeached after Oklahoma achieved statehood in 1907, though four of the five previous state governors had gone through impeachment proceedings and escaped conviction.

The impeachment sealed Walton's defeat in his fight to end Klan violence. He continued to blame the organization for his troubles and announced that he was forming an anti-Klan organization known as the National Society of American Freemen. The military courts assembled to investigate the floggings and other vigilante acts ended up arresting about 40 people, and four entered pleas and received prison sentences before Walton was impeached. Only one person, a Broken Bow constable named William Finley, ever did any time behind bars; he was later pardoned by Trapp. The other three had their sentences vacated in 1924 and were fined $25 apiece for assault and battery.

However, the tense standoff between Walton, the state legislature, and the KKK did result in some modest efforts to stem the Klan's activities. Disney, concerned that Walton could plausibly accuse the legislature of being dominated by the Klan and leverage these allegations in future political campaigns, asked the legislators to pass a "Klan bill with teeth." Despite this plea, the resulting legislation was fairly weak. It barred the wearing of Klan regalia in public and slightly increased the penalties for crimes committed while masked. The heavily publicized incidents of KKK violence helped spur the formation of a number of anti-Klan organizations, and internal disputes also helped weaken the KKK's power in Oklahoma; by the end of the decade, their influence had all but disappeared.

The graft accusations against Walton soon resulted in criminal charges against the ex-governor. The legislature had accused Walton of working with his state health commissioner, A.E. Davenport, to divert funds to pay the salary of Walton's personal chauffeur, T.P. Edwards. On April 10, 1924, the Oklahoma County state attorney filed five felony counts against the three men. Davenport managed a $15,000 fund to prevent and cure venereal diseases, and the state attorney said the trio had been skimming money to pay Edwards' salary when he was not involved with the health department in any way.

The case against Walton collapsed eight days later on a technicality. His attorneys moved to dismiss the charges, saying the state had accused him of directly participating in the scheme but had shown no evidence to back up the claim. It could have charged the former governor with aiding and abetting the diversion of funds, but it had failed to do so; moreover, the court had not authorized the state attorney to file new charges in the state. The charges were dismissed, and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the decision in 1925 after the state appealed it.

Surprisingly, Walton was able to stage another political campaign just one year after his impeachment. Following the retirement of Robert L. Owen, who had been a U.S. senator since Oklahoma became a state, Walton ran for the Democratic nomination for the office. He was the only candidate to publicly denounce the KKK, which may have helped him win the nomination.

However, historians have also suggested that the Klan itself sought to manipulate the election so that Walton would win the nomination. The organization endorsed the front-runner, a strategy which hurt his support and elevated the relatively unpopular Walton to the top of the ticket. In the general election, the KKK threw its support behind Republican candidate William B. Pine. Walton repeatedly accused Pine of being a Klansman himself, a charge which Pine denied.

Walton remained unpopular enough that several members of his own party refused to endorse him. In a speech in Maine on August 23, 1924, Republican vice presidential candidate Charles Dawes directly referenced Walton's bungling anti-Klan offensive. Dawes declared that secret organizations had no place in a political campaign and denounced the prejudices advanced by such groups, but also suggested that most of their members were seeking to support law and order. Dawes suggested that Walton's actions, including the pardoning of "hardened criminals," helped enhance the KKK's appeal. "If there could be an excuse for law-abiding citizens to band themselves together in secret organizations for law enforcement, it existed in Oklahoma and the Klan became a powerful organization," he said. Dawes accused Walton of nearly causing a civil war in the state by declaring martial law, since it created a situation where citizens who thought they were supporting law and order as part of the Klan had to face off against the authority of the state; he said bloodshed had been avoided "only by a few clear-headed men."

Some of Walton's fiery statements did him no favors at the polls. He suggested that 95 percent of Protestant ministers in Oklahoma were KKK members and "lower than skunks," a statement which brought him plenty of Protestant opposition. He was quoted as accusing one resident of being "one of this dirty Klux crowd who would steal the pennies off St. Peter's eyes and ravish the Virgin Mary." Walton denied that he had said this phrase and offered to donate $500 to charity if someone could prove that he had uttered it; the Daily Oklahoman subsequently collected 100 sworn affidavits from witnesses who said Walton had made the statement.

With Walton's antics fresh in their memory, Oklahoma voters had no desire to see him represent them again. Though the Democrats performed well in several state races,Pine triumphed in the Senate race with 339,646 votes to Walton's 196,417.

After his defeat, Walton moved to Houston, Texas, to work in the oil industry. His enemies celebrated the departure, thinking they may have run him out of Oklahoma for good. But Walton returned to Oklahoma a few years later and would make a number of bids for political office. He ran for the Senate in 1930, but withdrew before the election. A year later, he made an unsuccessful bid to again become mayor of Oklahoma City.

Walton was one of 19 people indicted by a federal grand jury in January 1931 for mail fraud related to the promotion of the defunct business Universal Oil and Gas in Oklahoma City. In December, he and 11 others were acquitted due to insufficient evidence.

In 1932, Walton was returned to political office when he was elected to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. This body was charged with regulating the state's oil production, and Walton defeated 14 other candidates—including Huey Long's brother, George L. Long—for the post. He served on the commission until 1939.

Walton's repeated bids for office were regarded as an overarching attempt at political redemption, but he was evidently not satisfied that voters trusted him enough to elect him to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. He continued to seek higher office during the 1930s. He ran in the Democratic primary for governor in 1934, finishing third behind Ernest W. Marland and Tom Anglin. He made another unsuccessful bid for the nomination in 1938, losing to Leon Phillips. Walton would also make a bid for county sheriff, again without success. He began practicing law in 1944.

On November 4, 1949, Walton was partially paralyzed after suffering a stroke on an Oklahoma City bus. He started to recover, but died on November 25.

Sources: The National Governors Association, The Oklahoma Department of Libraries, The Oklahoma Historical Society, "2500 Whippings Roil Governor" in the Spokesman-Review on Jul. 2 1923, "Further Moves by Governor Walton" in the Lawrence Journal-World on Sep. 14 1923, "Governor Walton Calls Off Oklahoma State Fair to Avoid Interference with Plans to Disband Kluxers" in the Victoria Advocate on Sep. 18 1923, "Oklahoma Governor May Be Ousted by Impeachment as a Result of His Fight on Klan" in the Prescott Evening Courier on Sep. 19 1923, "Grand Dragon of the KKK Under Arrest" in the Schenectady Gazette on Sep. 22 1923, "Walton Welcomes Federal Probe" in the Milwaukee Sentinel on Sep. 24 1923, "Floggers Tried to Make Man Eat His Own Ear, Walton Says" in the Milwaukee Sentinel on Sep. 24 1923, "Declares Klan Could Stop Martial Law in Oklahoma" in the Lewiston Daily Sun on Sep. 25 1923, "Walton's Soldiers Disperse Legislators Who Assembled in Defiance of His Decree" in the Meriden Morning Record on Sep. 27 1923, "Klan Fight is Considered as Walton Boost" in the Prescott Evening Courier on Oct. 2 1923, "Walton Aims to Strengthen His Situation" in the Schenectady Gazette on Oct. 5 1923, "World History in the Making" in the Toledo Blade on Oct. 11 1923, "Oklahoma Legislator Wants Lots of Action" in the Nevada Daily Mail on Oct. 20 1923, "Walton Suspended is Decision of Supreme Court" in the Schenectady Gazette on Oct. 25 1923, "Klan Mention Stricken From Walton Record" in the Schenectady Gazette on Nov. 12 1923, "Governor Walton Quits His Trial" in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Nov. 17 1923, "Impeachment Court Unanimously Ousts Walton as Governor of Oklahoma; Will Continue Fight" in the Prescott Evening Courier on Nov. 20 1923, "Walton Out as Governor of Oklahoma" in the Southeast Missourian on Nov. 20 1920, "Walton Faces Felony Charge in Oklahoma" in the Preston Evening Courier on Nov. 23 1923, "Walton Says Klan Plotted His Removal" in the Lewiston Daily Sun on Dec. 11 1923, "Dawes Discusses Klan Against Advice Party Men at Island Park Meeting" in the Lewiston Daily Sun on Aug. 25 1924, "Walton in Oklahoma Beaten by Unfitness" in the Sunday Morning Star on Nov. 9 1924, "'Jack' Walton Stages Lively Comeback" in the Sunday Morning Star on Aug. 1 1926, "Indict Ousted Governor of Oklahoma for Fraud" in the Herald-Journal on Jan. 29 1931, "'Iron Jack' Walton Freed in Mail Fraud" in the Pittsburgh Press on Dec. 19 1931, "Walton Pushes Oklahoma Race for State Head" in the Berkeley Daily Gazette on Dec. 25 1933, "Fiery Ex-Governor Dies; Was Klan Enemy" in the Evening Independent on Nov. 25 1949, Oklahoma v. Walton, "Oklahoma's 'Iron Jack' Walton Dies" in the Pittsburgh Press on Nov. 25 1949, "Governor Declares Martial Law in Okmulgee County" in the Tulsa World on June 27 2005, "Beno Hall: Tulsa's Den of Terror" in This Land on Sep. 3 2011, "Butchers: 'What Can Be Done' vs. 'What Is Done'" on OKC.net on Oct. 31 2013, Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan by David Mark Chalmers, Oklahoma Justice: The Oklahoma City Police by Ron Owens, The Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest by Charles C. Alexander, Oklahoma: A History of Five Centuries by Arrell Morgan Gibson, Encyclopedia of Oklahoma

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Ted Stevens: you wouldn't like him when he's angry


The crash of a Learjet as it attempted to land in Anchorage, Alaska, would link to many important parts of Senator Ted Stevens' life. Stevens was one of two people to survive the accident, which occurred on December 4, 1978. The jet lost control in crosswind conditions as it arrived from Juneau, breaking apart as it came down between two runways.

Stevens' wife of 26 years, Ann Cherrington, and four others were killed in the crash. As he recovered, Stevens said the incident would not discourage him from flying. He had served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, continued to hold a commercial pilot's license, and occasionally flew "just for the hell of it" (though he wasn't piloting the plane in the Anchorage crash). Stevens even parlayed the incident into a pitch for more funding at the airport, saying it was the second such crash in the past year and that a crosswinds runway was necessary at Anchorage.

Despite his nonchalant statements after the near-death experience, including the remark that frequent flying was necessary to get between Alaska and Washington, D.C., some of Stevens' colleagues in the United States Senate said he had been worried about this mode of travel. He had mentioned a premonition that he might die in a plane crash, and made frequent references to the 1972 disappearance of a plane traveling from Anchorage to Juneau, the opposite flight path of the ill-fated Learjet. Representative Nick Begich of Alaska, House Majority Leader Hale Boggs of Louisiana, and two others had presumably been killed when the plane went down in the remote wilderness, although the plane and its occupants were never found.

Two years after the crash, Stevens would marry Catherine Chandler, a lawyer from a well-known Democratic family. The airport where he lost his first wife would be renamed in his honor in 2000, the same year the state legislature named him the "Alaskan of the Century." He would face Nick Begich's son in a tight race in 2008, defined largely by questionable home renovations which he said his second wife had overseen. And while his premonition would not hold true in 1978, it would be fulfilled more than three decades later.

Stevens was born Theodore Fulton Stevens in Indianapolis on November 18, 1923. Early in his childhood, he moved with his family to Chicago. In the wake of the stock market crash of 1929, Stevens' father lost his job as an accountant. Stevens subsequently took a job as a newsboy to help support his parents and three siblings. Following the divorce of his parents and the death of his father, he moved to Manhattan Beach, California, to live with an aunt.

After graduating from high school, Stevens began attending Oregon State College. He was there for only one semester, in 1942, before deciding to join the war effort. He enrolled at Montana State College for cadet training in the Army Air Corps in 1943, and began flying supply missions the next year. Stevens was part of the "Flying Tigers," piloting C-46 and C-47 planes over the Himalayas from India to China. When he concluded his service in 1946, he had been awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Air Medals, and the Yuan Hai Medal from the Republic of China.

Ted Stevens during his service in World War II (Source)

After the war, Stevens returned to college. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1947 with a degree in political science. After a stint as a research assistant with the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, he attended Harvard Law School and graduated in 1950. He was admitted to the bar in California in the same year, but got the his first job at a law firm in Washington, D.C.

Stevens' long association with Alaska began in 1953, when he drove across the country to take a job at a law firm in Fairbanks. He became the U.S. Attorney in the city a year later. Stevens would later recall that two newspaper publishers were responsible for his first foray into politics, encouraging him to return to the nation's capital to work in the Eisenhower Administration and push for Alaska statehood. He became the legislative counsel for the Department of the Interior in 1956, working his way up to Assistant to the Secretary of the Interior in 1958 and Solicitor of the department in 1960. Alaska became a state in January 1959.

Stevens again returned to Alaska, opening a law firm in Anchorage in 1961. He would soon make another stab at national politics, earning the Republican nomination for Senate in 1962. He lost the race to the incumbent, Ernest Gruening. However, he was successful in a 1964 bid for the state house of representatives and was reelected two years later, serving as the speaker pro tempore and majority leader. Another attempt at the U.S. Senate in 1968 also fell short as Stevens lost the GOP primary to Anchorage mayor Elmer Rasmuson; Rasmuson subsequently lost the general election to Democratic candidate Mike Gravel.

But just months after this election, Stevens learned he would be going to the Senate after all. One of Alaska's seats in the Senate became vacant on December 11, 1968, when Democratic Senator E.L. Bartlett died during heart surgery. Governor Walter Hickel, a Republican, appointed Stevens to the post on Christmas Eve. In a special election in November of 1970, Stevens was elected in his own right to serve the remaining two years of Bartlett's term.

Stevens would remain in the Senate for almost four more decades, winning seven general elections. He chaired his first committee during the Ninety-fourth Congress, leading the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee between 1975 and 1977. He would serve as the chairman of five additional committees during his career, including those related to appropriations, ethics, governmental affairs, and commerce, science, and transportation.

Between 1977 and 1985, Stevens held the position of Republican whip, or leader of the party within the Senate. He sought to become the majority leader in 1984, but lost to Bob Dole of Kansas by three votes. Stevens was president pro tempore of the Senate from 2003 to 2007, the third person in the line of presidential succession behind the Vice President and Speaker of the House.

Throughout his career, Stevens became well-known in Alaska for his efforts to improve the state's standing in the nation. He fought for Hickel's appointment as Secretary of the Interior in 1969; the former governor's new role made him the first Alaskan to serve in a presidential cabinet. He backed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971 to resolve land claims by indigenous residents in Alaska, many of which had not been addressed since Alaska became a state. This legislation also helped clear some barriers to the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, an 800-mile project completed in 1977 to carry oil from the Prudhoe Bay fields to the port of Valdez.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline met with plenty of objection from environmentalists, and Stevens had a mixed record when it came to the issue of conservation. He expressed opposition to "extreme environmentalists" and supported proposals to drill for oil in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge, but he was particularly committed to marine environmental efforts. He co-authored the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 1976 to set a 200-mile economic exclusion zone from U.S. shores to regulate foreign fishing vessels and protect fisheries in this area. Stevens kept a close eye on this legislation in the ensuing years, contributing to the amendments and follow-ups made to it over the years. After the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Stevens led efforts to improve oil tanker designs to prevent a similar incident. In 2006, he voted against a proposed open pit mine to extract gold, molybdenum, and copper on the grounds that it would potentially threaten the salmon population in Bristol Bay.

Although formerly critical of the idea that human activities were a significant contributor to climate change, Stevens surprised environmentalists in February of 2007 by introducing a bill to improve fuel efficiency in new vehicles. Stevens said he still considered that other factors had more of an impact on the climate than humans, but he was now convinced that human activity was part of the problem. He said the altered climate was particularly noticeable in Alaska in the erosion of shorelines from rising sea levels, the disruption of salmon spawning grounds due to warmer waters, melting permafrost, and shrinking hunting grounds for polar bears and walruses.

Stevens was generally conservative in his positions, but he also had a record of more centrist or bipartisan positions as well. In June of 1971, he sponsored a bill to withdraw American troops from Vietnam within nine months; the Senate approved it on the condition that North Vietnam first free all remaining U.S. prisoners of war. He helped develop the Amateur Sports Act in 1978, which established the United States Olympic Committee as the national representative agency for the competition and set up national governing bodies and protections for individual athletes in each sport. Stevens was pro-choice in the sense that he did not believe government should intervene in the subject of abortion, saying in 1979 that it was a decision to be made by the couple and their doctor rather than "something 99 men fight over 30 times a year." Stevens also supported a ban on smoking in federal buildings, supported federal spending for public radio and Title IX legislation giving women equal opportunities in places receiving federal aid, and questioned the level of President Ronald Reagan's military spending.

The last objection was somewhat ironic, as Stevens' ability to funnel vast amounts of federal funding to Alaska became legendary. These allocations went to a variety of projects, from infrastructure to military bases to small businesses. His supporters in the state nicknamed him "Uncle Ted" for his ability to bring this money to Alaska, while critics charged him with wasting huge sums on pork-barrel projects. One out of every three jobs in Alaska was said to rely on federal funding in 2008. Taxpayers for Common Sense charged that Stevens directly sponsored or had a role in earmarks to legislation that directed $3.2 billion in federal funding to his home state between 2004 and 2008, resulting in a per capita total of $4,872 per resident of Alaska - more than 18 times the national average.

Stevens offered several defenses for his efforts to bring federal monies to Alaska. He said much of the state was federally owned anyway, and that it needed to catch up with the rest of the nation since it was one of the newer states and had spent many years as an impoverished territory. He also argued that Alaska deserved more funding due to its harsh weather, the presence of natural resources such as oil and gas, and the state's strategic importance due to its proximity to Russia.

More than any other project, Stevens was ridiculed for his commitment to a pair of transportation initiatives in 2005. A highway bill in this year requested $452 million to go toward two bridges in Alaska. One proposal, the Knik Arm Bridge, sought to link Anchorage with rural Port MacKenzie, which had a single tenant and almost no population; the final price tag of the bridge was estimated to be nearly $2 billion. The more infamous proposal would connect the small community of Ketchikan with Gravina Island, which included the local airport but was home to only 50 residents. The proposed span would have to be taller than the Brooklyn Bridge to allow cruise ships to pass under it, measure only 20 feet shorter than the Golden Gate Bridge, require a convoluted detour to access, and replace a short and reliable ferry ride. Supporters argued that the projects would help spur economic development and improve domestic security, but the request for costly crossings to benefit a handful of citizens was quickly denounced as a "Bridge to Nowhere." Taxpayers for Common Sense gave the proposal the dubious honor of the Golden Fleece Award, presented to proposals considered to be a major waste of taxpayers' money.

Stevens vehemently opposed efforts to block funding for the projects. The bill came up for consideration not long after Hurricane Katrina had devastated the Gulf Coast, and Senator Tom Coburn of Louisiana (a Republican) sought to divert funding for the Alaska bridges to be repair roads damaged by the storm. Stevens threatened to end his Senate career in protest if the amendment passed.

"I will put the Senate on notice, and I don't kid people: if the Senate decides to discriminate against our state, to take money only from our state, I'll resign from this body," he warned. "This is not the Senate I came to. This is not the Senate I've devoted 37 years to, if one senator can decide he'll take all the money from one state to solve the problem of another."

Coburn's proposal was voted down, with 82 senators opposed and 15 in favor. The compromise, struck a month later, removed the earmark which dedicated the money specifically to the bridges, but still allocated the money to Alaska for use on transportation projects. This stipulation meant the funding could still potentially be used for the bridges. The envisioned spans remained controversial, however, as the "Bridge to Nowhere" coming to symbolize uncontrolled federal spending and spurred efforts to rein in earmarks. While the Knik Arm Bridge remains under consideration, the Gravina Island proposal was recently scrapped. Lew Williams III, the mayor of Ketchikan, said it was more economically feasible to improve the ferry services and terminals than to build and maintain a bridge.

The debate over the bridges gave national exposure to Stevens' rancorous temper, but he had been regarded as a curmudgeon for many years by his colleagues in the Senate. "I am a mean, miserable S.O.B.," he once declared. However, Stevens still showed a sense of humor and camaraderie. He considered Daniel Inouye, the long-serving Democratic senator from the other young state of Hawaii, to be a close friend and the two worked together on a number of bipartisan efforts. Whenever he expected a tough fight on a bill, Stevens donned an Incredible Hulk tie.
Stevens, wearing an Incredible Hulk tie, poses with a figure of the superhero in 2003 (Source)

Stevens' cantankerous nature helped make him in inadvertent Internet meme after remarks he made before the Commerce Committee, which he chaired. Arguing against an amendment to prohibit Internet service providers from charging higher fees to companies that generated more traffic, Stevens said, "The Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a big truck; it's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand, those tubes can be filled, and if they're filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line, it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material." Stevens also referred to an e-mail sent by his staff as "an Internet" and complained that it had been delayed by getting "tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially."

The description of the Internet as a "series of tubes" soon became the subject of a number of parodies and commentaries. Some commentators suggested that the remarks exposed the 82-year-old Stevens as being hopelessly out of touch with the subject of net neutrality, despite being the head of the committee charged with overseeing the issue. Stevens' defenders argued that he had been speaking metaphorically in trying to illustrate his concerns.

Not long after these remarks, Stevens became the longest serving Republican in the Senate. He reached this milestone in April of 2007 and was lauded by his fellow senators for his service and bipartisanship. Inouye nicknamed him "The Strom Thurmond of the Arctic Circle," a reference to the fact that Thurmond would have held the honor if he hadn't spent two terms as a Democrat before switching parties. Stevens thanked his family and staff for their support, noting how he once flew back and forth between Alaska and the nation's capital 35 times in a single year. "I am surrounded by friends on both sides of the aisle, and I am still very honored to be here," he said.

By this time, Stevens had been accused of a number of conflicts of interest during his many years in office. He was criticized for advocating a lease deal with Boeing after they hired his wife's law firm in 2003, and for helping groups that hired his son Ben as a consultant. Investigators would later look into federal funding that had been directed to Ben's company to promote efforts to trim Alaska's crab and salmon fishing fleets as well as monies that supported the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, of which Ben was the first chairman. There had even been calls for Stevens to resign after the Los Angeles Times detailed how he had become a millionaire by investing in companies after he had secured government contracts for them. Stevens responded, "If they think I'm going to resign because of a story in the newspaper, they're crazy."

The FBI opened "Operation Polar Pen," the investigation which would eventually lead to criminal charges against Stevens, in 2004. Two years later, Governor Frank Murkowski announced that negotiations with Alaska's three main oil producers had resulted in an agreement for these companies to build a gas pipeline if the state would modify the way the producers were taxed. The VECO Corporation, an oil services engineering and construction company which was also a major financial supporter of Republican candidates in Alaska, stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars from this pipeline. Stevens was an associate of VECO's founder and chief executive officer, Bill Allen. The two men sometimes dined together, and they were part of a group of investors who owned a racehorse named So Long Birdie.

The investigation targeted VECO for its scheme to influence state legislators and other Alaska officials on matters related to the pipeline. The company sought to bribe legislators with incentives such as cash, services, and promises of future employment in exchange for votes on legislation favorable to VECO, including the construction of the pipeline, the adoption of its favored oil tax formula, and the rejection of efforts to increase this tax. Several VECO executives and Alaska legislators were charged with involvement in this corruption, and the FBI began making arrests in the spring of 2007.

In May, Allen and VECO vice president Rick Smith pleaded guilty to bribing state legislators. Allen agreed to testify against other defendants in the probe. He admitted that he had paid $243,250 to Ben Stevens, then the president of the Alaska state senate, between 2002 and 2006. Allen said the payments were ostensibly for consulting work, but were actually meant for "giving advice, lobbying colleagues, and taking official acts in matters before the Legislature." Several other witnesses said Ben had received illegal payments from Allen, but the senator's son was never charged with a crime.

At the September trial of Pete Kott, the former speaker of the Alaska house of representatives, Allen directly implicated Stevens. He testified that he had used more than $400,000 to bribe state legislators and do favors for Stevens over the years. By this point, the FBI had already started to scrutinize Stevens' finances. Several people were called before a federal grand jury in the spring and summer of 2007, including Stevens' neighbor, a financial clerk of the Commerce Committee, and a businessman who was an associate of the senator. In July, Stevens filed a financial disclosure form after getting an extension to fix what he said were technical errors. At the end of the month, FBI agents raided his home in Girdwood.

On July 29, 2008, the federal grand jury indicted Stevens on seven felony counts of violating the Ethics in Government Act by making false statements on financial disclosure forms between 1999 and 2006. Prosecutors charged that he failed to report about $250,000 in favors provided by VECO and others. It was the first time a sitting senator had been indicted in 15 years, and the charges were handed down before the Republican primary. Stevens won the party's nomination despite the indictment. He had the option of stepping down to let the Republican State Central Committee choose a candidate, but opted not to do so.
Stevens' mugshot following his indictment (Source)

The bulk of the charges against Stevens stemmed from his relationship to Allen. In the year 2000, Stevens' home went through extensive renovations which more than doubled the size of the original two-bedroom structure. The house was put up on stilts to add a new first floor, and contractors also put in a sauna, wine cellar, and wraparound porch. The workers said they billed Allen for the work and received checks from Stevens. The senator had expressed concerns about the renovations in a phone call to Allen which was recorded by the FBI, but reassured himself, "[T]he worst that can happen to us is we round up a bunch of legal fees and might lose and we might have to pay a fine, might have to serve a little jail time."

Allen had given Stevens several gifts including a Land Rover driven by one of his children, furniture, tools, a generator, and a gas grill. None of the gifts had been reported on his financial disclosure forms. He had also received a $2,695 massage chair, $3,200 stained glass window, and husky puppy from his friend Bob Penney without reporting them. The Kenai River Sport Fishing Association had given him a bronze fish statue valued at $29,000.

The indictment came down a little more than three months away from Election Day, which was shaping up to be a pivotal contest. The Democrats had regained majorities in both the House of Representatives and Senate in 2006. In the 2008 election, they had the potential to pursue a robust legislative agenda if they managed to recapture the White House and get enough seats in the Senate for a filibuster-proof majority. Hoping to be tried and acquitted before Election Day, Stevens asked for a speedy trial. This request was granted, but he was unable to get the proceedings transferred from Washington, D.C., to Alaska.

During the lengthy trial, Stevens spent three days on the stand. He said his wife was in charge of the renovations at the Girdwood home and that he was unaware that Allen had aided the project in any way. Stevens said they had paid every bill they received with their own money, and that he assumed the $160,000 in expenditures had covered all costs. He did express some irritation with the billing process, saying he had sometimes never received an invoice even after requesting it. "Catherine paid for the work that was done at our house," he concluded. "She paid the bills, and that's all there is to it."

The prosecution and defense had different interpretations of an October 2002 letter Stevens wrote to Allen, asking for a bill. "When I think of the many ways in which you make my life easier and more enjoyable, I lose count!" the letter read. "Thanks for all the work on the Chalet. You owe me a bill - remember Torricelli, my friend. Friendship is one thing - compliance with the ethics rules entirely different. I asked Bob P to talk to you about this, so don't get PO'd at him - it's [sic] just has to be done right." In referencing Torricelli, Stevens was recalling a former colleague, Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, whom the Senate had admonished for receiving illicit gifts from a campaign donor three months before the letter was written. Torricelli had been re-nominated by the party after the scandal, but dropped out of the race in September.

Allen alleged that the letter was simply a way for Stevens to cover his tracks, and that a friend of the senator had even urged him to ignore the request for a bill. During one exchange, Stevens testily asked prosecutor Brenda Morris, "If it was a gift, why did I ask for a bill?" Morris replied, "To cover your butt." Stevens' lawyers argued that the letter was nothing more than a friendly communication and effort to account for all costs related to the renovations.

Catherine also took the stand and testified that she had paid $160,000 to contractors other than VECO employees for the work. When it came to the unreported gifts, Stevens said he had never asked for them. The fish statue was supposedly destined for a library that would one day honor the senator. Stevens' daughter said that Allen sometimes used the Girdwood home when Stevens was in Washington, and that some of the gifts were for his own personal use as well. She also avowed that VECO had not unfairly rewarded the family; her son had been hired by the company, but subsequently fired for using drugs. Several witnesses called by the defense spoke to Stevens' character, including Inouye, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

On October 27, 2008, the jury found Stevens guilty of all seven charges against him. The verdict came down just eight days before the election, too late for the GOP to take him off the ballot and replace him with another candidate. However, Stevens was under no obligation to resign or withdraw from the race. Since there was no rule against convicted felons serving in Congress, he would be able to take his seat if he won another term and could only be removed by a two-thirds vote of the Senate.

Calls for Stevens' resignation came down from both major parties. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, declared, "It is clear that Senator Stevens has broken his trust with the American people and that he should now step down." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama also asked for Stevens to resign. Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska and McCain's running mate, did not specifically ask Stevens to step down but said she was confident he would "do the right thing for the state of Alaska." She suggested that if he decided to stay in the race and won, he should resign so a new candidate could be selected in a special election.

Had Stevens decided to resign after his conviction, Alaska rules would have required a special election to take place 60 to 90 days after he vacated his seat. But Stevens remained defiant, vowing to "fight this unjust verdict with every ounce of energy I have." He also said he was determined to remain in the race against Democratic candidate Mark Begich, the mayor of Anchorage. "I am not stepping down," Stevens said. "I'm going to run through and I'm going to win this election."

While Stevens had won easy victories against Democratic opponents in his previous races, his conviction appeared to have a significant impact on the election. Stevens was popular enough to win a large share of the nearly 300,000 votes cast in the Senate race. Nevertheless, he would be ousted in the contest; Begich won the seat by less than 1 percent, or about 2,300 votes. In a farewell speech on November 30, Stevens declared, "Working to help Alaska achieve its potential has been and will continue to be my life's work." He left the Senate on January 3, 2009, with his conviction still under appeal.

The Democratic victory in Alaska would contribute to a major shift of power in the nation's capital. In addition to winning the White House, the party took five Senate seats away from Republican incumbents. After Democratic candidate Al Franken was sworn in as the winner in a close race in Minnesota and Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switched parties in April of 2009, the Democrats had a filibuster-proof share of 60 seats in the Senate. This supermajority would only last until January of 2010, when Republican candidate Scott Brown won an upset victory in a special election to succeed Ted Kennedy after the longstanding senator's death in August 2009. Yet the Senate was easily able to approve the Affordable Care Act in December 2009 without the support of a single Republican senator.

Soon after the election, cracks began to appear in the prosecution's case against Stevens. The judge had rebuked prosecutors several times during the trial, and Stevens' defense team planned to question their methods as part of their appeal. In November 2008, former VECO employee David Anderson wrote to the judge to admit that he had been lying when he made the sworn statement that he did not have an immunity deal with prosecutors. In fact, he said, prosecutors had helped coach him by leaving him alone in a room with confidential documents. The Justice Department denied the claims.

On December 2, 2008, FBI agent Chad Joy filed a whistleblower report questioning the conduct of the prosecutors. He said they had tried to hide one witness and intentionally withheld evidence that would have been beneficial to the defense. In particular, they had not disclosed that Allen had formerly told FBI agents that Stevens would have paid an invoice for the work on his home; Allen had made the exact opposite statement during the trial. The information had been made known to the defense during the trial, but the disclosure had taken place right before Allen's cross-examination. Joy also accused prosecutors of knowingly using false VECO records to help establish the argument that Stevens received an improper benefit from Allen and failed to turn over information that would have undermined Allen's credibility. The former head of VECO had been investigated by police for allegedly having sex with an underage prostitute, and he had tried to get two witnesses to perjure themselves so they would not be able to testify against him. Joy's report also suggested that another FBI agent had had an inappropriate relationship with Allen.

On April 7, 2009, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan dismissed the verdict at the request of newly appointed Attorney General Eric Holder. The alleged misconduct by the prosecutors was the reason cited for the dismissal, and the government announced that it would not seek a retrial. Stevens' attorney was enraged by the revelations, deeming the prosecutors' behavior "stomach-churning corruption." Stevens said the decision had restored his faith in the justice system, but commented, "It is unfortunate that an election was affected by proceedings now recognized as unfair."

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility began an internal inquiry into the prosecutors in Stevens' case. Sullivan also appointed a special prosecutor to look into the allegations of misconduct. The latter report was completed in March 2012, concluding that there was "systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated Senator Stevens' defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government's key witness." The special prosecutor specifically targeted prosecutors Joseph Bottini and James Goeke, saying they "intentionally withheld and concealed" evidence. The report noted that prosecutors had been under pressure to quickly assemble a complex case to meet Stevens' request for a speedy trial, but did not conduct an effective search for potentially exculpatory evidence. Lower level prosecutors who worked on the case were essentially exonerated, though no conclusions were made with regard to a prosecutor who had worked closely on the case and committed suicide in September 2010.

The Justice Department issued its own report in May 2012. It differed from the special prosecutor's report mainly in its conclusion that the prosecutors had not intentionally withheld evidence, suggesting that this action was a result of the confusion of several attorneys working on the case and the efforts to quickly assemble evidence against Stevens to meet the request for a speedy trial. However, it did declare that Bottini and Goeke had engaged in "reckless professional conduct." The report did not recommend that either man be fired, but instead suspended Bottini without pay for 40 days and Goeke for 15 days. Stevens' lawyers were not satisfied, saying the Justice Department's punishment "demonstrated conclusively that it is not capable of disciplining its prosecutors."

By the time these conclusions had been issued, Stevens had died in Alaska. On August 9, 2010, he was one of eight people traveling on a float plane owned by the GCI Communication Corporation. The plane was scheduled to fly from a GCI-owned lodge on Lake Nerka to a sport fishing camp on the Nushagak River. The plane crashed northeast of Aleknagik, killing Stevens and three others on board. The National Transportation Safety Board said the cause of the crash was unclear, determining only that pilot Terry Smith (one of those killed) became temporarily incapacitated. The NTSB theorized that Smith had fallen asleep, had a seizure, or otherwise become briefly unaware of the situation and was unable to reach a safe altitude before the plane hit a hillside. The report on the accident criticized the Federal Aviation Administration for re-certifying Smith's pilot's license two years before the crash, saying their medical review had not been thorough enough.

Stevens is buried at Arlington National Cemetery (Source)

Although the verdict against Stevens was dismissed, some were not convinced that the senator's relationship with Allen was not improper. The federal investigation in Alaska had found plenty of corruption in the state government; it ended in October 2011 after seven years with the convictions of 10 people, including six state legislators. One alternate juror in Stevens' case said the determination of prosecutorial misconduct was not quite enough for him to consider the former senator to be innocent. The report had only gone into the allegations of work at Stevens' home in Girdwood, not the gifts he had received but not declared on his financial disclosure forms. The former juror also felt that Stevens' lawyers had done more to defend the senator's character than explain Stevens' cozy relationship with Allen and his questionable e-mail record regarding the renovations.

Many continue to see Stevens in a positive light, however. The Ted Stevens Foundation, established in 2001, continues to "recognize [his] career and honor his legacy of public service by working to ensure a stable and vibrant Alaska for future generations." In 2011, the Alaska Legislature deemed the fourth Saturday of every July to be Ted Stevens Day and encouraged Alaskans to "get out any play" by enjoying the outdoors. In recognition of his legislation to protect Olympic athletes, Stevens was inducted into the Olympics Hall of Fame in 2012; two years later, the U.S. Olympic Committee named a training facility in Colorado Springs in his honor.

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