Earlier this month, we discovered all we needed to know about wide stances and tap dances from Republican Senator Larry Craig, and the GOP got wind burns in their race to throw him under the bus. Now we have a different kind of tap haunting another Republican Senator, and this one relates much more closely to the people's business than a flirtation in a Minneapolis airport salle de bain. Ted Stevens found out that the FBI has tapped his conversations with an Alaskan oil executive already in hot water in another corruption case:
The FBI, working with an Alaska oil contractor, secretly taped telephone calls with Sen. Ted Stevens as part of a public corruption sting, according to people close to the investigation.
The secret recordings suggest the Justice Department was eyeing Stevens long before June, when the Republican senator first publicly acknowledged he was under scrutiny. At that time, it appeared Stevens was a new focus in a case that had already ensnared several state lawmakers.
The recorded calls between Stevens and businessman Bill Allen were confirmed by two people close to the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still under way. They declined to say how many calls were recorded or what was said.
Allen, a wealthy businessman and Stevens' political patron, agreed to the taping last year after authorities confronted him with evidence he had bribed Alaska lawmakers. He pleaded guilty to bribery and is a key witness against Alaska legislators. He also has told prosecutors he paid his employees to renovate the senator's house.
First, let's note that Craig pled guilty to disorderly conduct, even though he's made a raft of excuses since then and has asked to have his plea vacated. Stevens has pled guilty to nothing, has been convicted with nothing, and hasn't even been charged -- yet. If Allen gets his way, at least one of those conditions may change quickly.
Allen's not the only one talking, and indeed, investigators have not completely relied on informants in this probe. Another VECO employee told the FBI that the oil company helped run campaign fundraisers for Stevens without declaring the effort as in-kind contributions. The FBI has secretly videotaped Alaskan politicians meeting with contractors, as well as taping calls from other VECO executives.
The one intriguing element from this probe is that VECO didn't get a lot for its money. A look at the contracts database at Fedspending.org (an indispensable resource) shows that VECO didn't get more than $18 million for contracts in any annual federal budget -- and that the vast majority of those contracts came in fully competitive bid arrangements. In FY 2006, for example, VECO received 96.4% of its contract revenue from the most competitive bid type. Only in 2005 did it drop below 96%, when it hit 84% for that year.
If VECO didn't get non-bid contracts, then what did Stevens do for them? The pork king of the North has famously distributed earmarks throughout the state, but not apparently to VECO. Allen and VECO certainly had the ear of a Senator who could help improve business conditions for oil interests in Alaska, but it doesn't look like Stevens arranged any kind of sweetheart deals for VECO using his normal modus operandi.
We will have to wait to see what the FBI determines. They've certainly forced Stevens to be thinking about taps more than Larry Craig, but I doubt that Stevens will shuffle off stage as rapidly as Craig will after this month.