Tuesday, November 6, 2007

In Defense of Steve Aufrecht's Humanity

Philip Munger: I've posted an essay about the the talk radio conversations today in Anchorage about Kohring trial blogs at my new site.

Monday, November 5, 2007

What Next?

With the conviction of Vic Kohring in Anchorage Federal court last Thursday, speculation about new indictments ratcheted back up to pre-Kohring trial levels. Pete Weyrauch's trial date hasn't been set yet, but will probably be sometime in late Spring, 2008.

Ex-Veco top executives and top GOP pump primers, Bill Allen and Rick Smith
have testified they pled guilty to bribing State Senator John Cowdery, former State Senator Ben Stevens, and - it appears - U.S. Senator Ted Stevens. The Ben Stevens and John Cowdery indictments are probably due any day now.

A name which kept coming up in the Kohring trial was that of Frank Murkowski's ex-Chief of Staff, Jim Clark. This appears to be chiefly due to Clark's role as liaison between Veco, the major producers, and the administration of ex-Governor Frank Murkowski, during the 2006 special sessions of the Alaska Legislature. And Murkowski himself has been suggested as a possible target of the next layer of indictments.

Anecdotes about Vic Kohring as mooch keep on surfacing. Michael Carey's video summation of his trial impressions is available at the Anchorage Daily News web site's video niche. I'll be on Steve Heimel's Talk of Alaska program Tuesday at 10:00 a.m., with Steve Aufrecht, talking about aspects of the trial's coverage.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Fred puts down some more thoughts on the verdict

Fred James: Aloha! I’m STILL in Anchorage trying to get out on Delta. I’ve tried twice but both times the plane was filled to the brim. In the meantime:

The question “Why did that jury convict Big Innocent Vic of three of the four charges? This iniquity has been warping around my tiny brain ever since I heard the court clerk read out the verdict.

Last night I tossed and turned thinking many thoughts. Certainly, like any HUMAN enterprise, there were probably many reasons they capitulated to the State.
Here are a few:

a) The jury lived in Alaska like everyone else for 14 months absorbing the Anchorage Daily New’s downright evil reportage on Vic, day after day repeating the supposed felonies he was alleged to have done. Channel Two in Anchorage was probably worse because moving images are much more dramatic.

b) The anti-government climate (Which on the whole is a good thing!) was exasperated by a flurry of corrupt politicians being caught in this giant FBI sting and FOUND GUILTY. Vic was lumped into this mess.

c) The government lawyers exaggerated and spoke about allegations as facts over and over despite John Henry Browne’s careful questions that demolished important aspects of most of them. e.g., getting BOTH Smith and Allen to admit that there was No loan, No job, No truck and that Rick Smith had come up with the idea of giving a job to Vic’s nephew, NOT VIC!!

d) The judge DENIED the defense motion for change of venue so that Vic’s jury would be RELATIVELY unbiased.

e) We could have pulled out twelve years of Vic’s public writings that were published in many of the major newspapers in Alaska. We could have shown that he believes in private enterprise and would VOTE for private enterprise...ALL private enterprises and AGAINST taxation. Then we could have matched his voting record against what he wrote! It would be IDENTICAL!!!!!

f) The judge also DENIED JHB’s major tool to show the government’s basic thrust in this farce was totally wrong. What was that? The government had a video of Vic talking to Bill Allen in a hotel in Juneau. At this time Allen gave Vic some money which Allen ADMITED under cross to be a present for Vic’s daughter which is EXACTLY WHAT VIC HAD MAINTAINED FROM THE START. The grainy black & white video was widely condemned as PROOF Vic was on the take. Vic told him at the time politely: “Thank you. If there is anything I can do to help you, let me know.” THAT line the government was convinced was proof Vic was VECO”S bought and paid for tool. Also the government came up with the fact that Vic was friendly with and voted for most VECO desired bills.

JHB was not ALLOWED by the judge to counter this with all important testimony. Let’s suppose for a minute that the judge had said, “Sure bring on as many witnesses as you like to make your point.” We had a list of over 30 people who were willing to testify that Vic’s mantra, a statement he said to everyone was, and had been for over twelve years, “Thank you. If there is anything I can do to help you, let me know.” Vic had said this line in his radio ads, his print ads, his newsletters and to many, many people over the years. In fact he not only SAID this line frequently we could have proved he said it SINCERELY, followed by deeds. I had a man ready to tell the tale of how he was doing some plaster work in his home when Vic turned up in a shirt and tie at his door campaigning. Here’s my friend, all covered with plaster and paint, a tool belt on, opening the door to a 6’7” giant stranger looking down on him. Vic went through his pitch about free markets, less government and no new taxes and finished with his almost patented line about offering help. Then Vic said “I know a lot about this kind of work. Can I help you?” He then took off his coat and spent two hours helping my friend finish the interior work. My friend was absolutely astounded. He had found an honest politician who did what he promised! He told me he would vote for him and then did, over and over again.

Now this kind of story is no exception. When calling down that list of Vic supporters I bumped into human after human who had identical or like stories about Vic. How he always finished most conversations with is his line, “Thank you. If there is anything I can do to help you, let me know.”

We could have waltzed in at least 30 witnesses to say these things most sincerely. We hoped to the point where the government would have stipulated that this was indeed his constant line and followed through with it. It would also have placed the image of Vic into the jury’s minds as one whale of a nice human being.

Then we could have brought in government records of his voting statistics. They would prove that he consistently voted AGAINST any new taxes and favored ALL PRIVATE enterprise, not Big Oil alone. We would have paraded in man after man who would have said more or less, “I called up Vic who took the time to understand my small private business’s problems with government and he offered to help me any way he could, just like his line in his ads. Then he followed through and GAVE ME THE HELP. Then Leza who had flown up here to Anchorage at her own expense to testify would have said something like: “I worked for him one session in Juneau. He helped EVERYONE, Even people OUTSIDE his district because he regarded his role of lawmaker more as ombudsman that creator of new taxes and bureaucracies. She could have told the jury, “I saw him with my own eyes, time after time say goodbye to people with his “I’ll help you as much as I can.” line. I witnessed this too.

Now suppose we could have been ALLOWED to demonstrate this realty to the jury. Then they would have had the KNOWLEDGE that Vic’s line to VECO head Bill Allen in that video was once again the same line he gave everyone. AND THAT VECO WAS JUST ONE OF MANY PEOPLE IN BUSIINESS HE SAID THAT TOO.....AND MEANT!!!! We could have demonstrated this easily with MANY, many witnesses.

Then the jury would have debated the alleged offenses in a far different light!
But JHB, though no fault of his own, was denied this by one Judge John Sedwick.

These are the reasons Vic was found guilty of three of the four counts. I think he did make a mistake; he foolishly allowed thug Bill Allen to convince him he was an actual friend and that the gifts he gave him were sincere. Since the government showed no direct, hard evidence that VIC ACTUALLY DID anything in return for that gift, all we have is the word of a Bill Allen.

The substance of my criticism is that the jury was not allowed the FULL CONTEXT of the situation. Suppose for example that you were a person on a jury. You are on a murder case. The prosecution has several witnesses who say they saw the defendant pull out a pistol and shoot the deceased twice in the chest, “cool and easy as if he were taking a cold drink of lemonade on a warm sunny day.” You learn that the defendant did not even know the murdered guy. The defendant admits to shooting the man. The government suggests that the defendant is a hit man. The defense lawyer asks for permission to put on witnesses and is denied.

You vote guilty. Only later do you read on blogs that the defendant was an Army trained marksman, that he was in a crime infested area of a large city when his car broke down and the deceased was coming at him with a very large knife with a crazed look and scream. All the defendant did was draw his .45 and ably defend himself and his wife and two kids in the car!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh Oh! Too late! The government has already put him to death!

I believe Vic has ample grounds for a serious appeal. I have just given you SOME of them. I hope he will.

Aloha Nui Loa

IL Fettucinni

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Week Two - Day Four - Fred talks about Vic's options

Fred James: It is the evening of November 1, hours after Vic was found guilty on three of the four counts. The good news is that the one count he was found not guilty on was the most grievous of the four counts. And there are a number of good reasons for a solid appeal. Whether or not Vic decides to make an appeal will be done in about three months, after the sentencing which is scheduled for early February next.

The grounds for appeal might be the fact that the local media inundated Alaskans with highly negative publicity almost on a daily basis for the last ten months, putting Vic’s picture on the cover of the ADN or at the Start of the TV news, constantly , repeating the words, “raid, corruption, guilty, money changing hands” etc. which tended to bias the jury pool, the refusal by the judge to allow the trial to be conducted elsewhere, the fact that 20 potential testimonies by local people including Leza and myself were denied by the judge. We could have shown that Vic was constantly using the phrase “If there is anything you need, please feel free to call me for help.” a phrase which the government lawyers twisted to mean, “I’ll be happy to do your bidding oh corrupt VECO Crooks if you pay me money”. And a particularly open ended FBI video where Bill Allen, the head crook of VECO handed Vic some money. How much money was never established because it could have been five dollars or five million. Bill Allen SAID it was so and so amount and the government kept repeating that as if it were true.

As Vic Faced the jury this afternoon he began to hear the three guilty verdicts and one not guilty, he kept his composure and bravely kept up his head. The judge asked the government attorneys if Vic should be allowed to stay on his present free status until the sentencing in early February, they quickly agreed as they saw no flight risk.. So that was ordered. Vic can mump about without electronic monitoring or checking in ever morning or any of that nonsense. As one blogger put it, “They missed the sharks in this scandal, and caught a minnow.”

I believe there is a very healthy anti-government, anti-politician attitude in the public right now which is one reason Ron Paul is gaining so much ground. But the other side of this is that the one politician who IS NOT a statist Vahrule, the one pol who has an almost pure libertarian political philosophy and who is not afraid to write about it in his opinion pieces, a large, tall target named Vic has been drawn down with the ACTUAL corrupt politicians as if he were one of them.

Recently two politicians were found guilty of corruption along with the “VECO Crooks.” I believe this jury simply lumped Vic in with the others. After all how do you tell if a politician is lying? His lips are moving. I have always felt this way about Rulers. I have always agreed with the great American political philosopher Woody Allen. Allen told his audience once, “Everyone knows that politicians are one rung lower than child molesters.” Vic has been lumped in.

In movies and TV shows (including Boston Legal) when the accused is about to find out the verdict he usually is required to stand and his lawyer with him. But in this federal courtroom, the judge received the written verdict and handed it directly to his court clerk who promptly read it! No one stood. But if Vic and his lawyer had been required to stand, I who sat directly behind them for almost two full weeks would have stood too. And if the judge had told me I did not have to stand, (Like Spock in Star Trek) I would have said in a loud voice, “Sir, I stand with my friend.”

A friend called me on the phone tonight, a man who I used to go shooting with occasionally in Alaska in the last 25 years. He told me most sincerely, “After watching that debacle for the last two weeks it turned me into a total libertarian.”

Oddly, except for denying the change of venue motion and several small items, Judge John Sedwick was the first judge in a criminal court I’ve ever seen who seemed to be really attempting to conduct a fair trial!

Vic is down but not out. I saw a number of news photographers tell him to keep up the fight. Last week I observed at least one reporter attempt to twist virtually everything Vic said. I read one blogger who admitted Vic was truly a polite, friendly man but then went on to write that this manner HAD TO BE A CON! I’ve known the man since 1992 and KNOW he’s exactly the polite, gentle giant that his attorney once called him.

I saw one person in this charade say one thing on the radio and then literally lie to Vic’s face the next day by telling Vic the opposite. I observed government attorneys speak over and over to the jury about specific sums of money that Bill Allen, the crooked center of all this mess, merely TOLD the government he gave to Vic. They spoke as if it were proven fact. So allegations became fact, rumor became truth. Black is white and Big Brother wins another.

George Orwell is laughing in his grave as the state rules.

Aloha Nui Loa,

IL Fettucinni

Week Two - Day Four - Verdict!

Philip Munger: At about 1:30 this afternoon the jury in the Vic Kohring GOP Alaska legislative corruption trial returned verdicts on all four counts. Kohring was found not guilty on the most serious charge of corruption. The charges of bribery, attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion went the other way. I was unable to be at the Federal Courthouse at all this afternoon because of work. I didn't think the jury would reach a verdict until tomorrow, but I did predict the results fairly closely in my earlier post today.

I called Fred James a few minutes ago. He intends to catch up after he gets back home in Bellingham, Washington tomorrow morning. I've got to get ready for a concert I'm in at Dimond High School this evening, and practice my tuba, so I'll be catching up on this more tomorrow.

Week Two - Day Four - Thoughts...

Philip Munger: I got together with Fred James to create this blog as a unique way to approach the new communication frontier of trial blogging. I had hoped we would be able to do something more akin to the live blogging, pioneered by firedoglake during the Irving Libby trials last spring. That didn't happen. But this experience has been worthwhile.

I'm hoping to widen the discussions carried here before Fred and I move on. One area of interest to me is why all this happened to Vic Kohring, Pete Kott, Bruce Weyrauch, Tim Anderson, Bill Allen and Rick Smith. The votes were for sale because lobbyists have such heavy influence in so many aspects of political life, especially on the state and national levels. I'm a champion of voter reform, so I'm hoping to bring interviews with people involved in attempting to clean up our state elections into a couple posts here, possibly early this coming week.

Week Two - Day Four - Waiting on the Jury...

Philip Munger: Today will be the first full day of jury deliberation. I'm finally going to make a mild prediction - a mixed verdict tomorrow afternoon. They'll be hung on the most serious charge of bribery, and convict on the other three.

Meanwhile, wacky comments interspersed with contemplation and a bit of sanity at the ADN article on yesterday's summations:

The Only Honest Politician Destroyed
Vic Kohring is the only fully honest politician I have met, but his very lack of guile and simple, trusting character has made him an easy mark for unscrupulous thugs -- on both sides of the law.

no real proof....
I dont see any real proof of bribes. I see a man asking someone for a loan, but not a bribe. Who says that you should ask family before anyone else for a loan? In the recording I saw and is on this ADN site, Allen clearly states/asks.....is this a loan? Vic answers "yes"......

honestly dumb
Kohring knew he wasn't supposed to be taking money--even for gifts for his child. But that's all crap anyway. How many times have you had someone offer you hundreds for an easter egg hunt. Honest to goodness if this jury comes out with a not guilty verdict I'm going to be sick.

Steve Aufrecht will be part of the panel meeting today at noon at the Federal Building Cafeteria (far end - a sort of solarium room - about journalism and the ongoing political corruption trials. I can't be there, as I'm teaching at UAA at that hour. Steve's most recent post talks about Eric Musser, the Kohring aide Allen wanted disposed of for being an honest whistleblower.

And - I've been waiting for further verification on this before I posted my own comment. Toward the end of closing arguments, the courtroom must have been as full as it gets - SRO. Standing quite close to the exit door was wingnut talk radio host and big oil apologist, Dan Fagan. Seeing him reminded me that the last time I called his show was to correct him as he he was slandering Vic Kohring's wife, Tatiana, on his show. He was spewing a line about mail order brides from Russia, and saying that Kohring had brought her back from Russia because of, of what? Fagan was implying that Kohring must be lacking something sexually to have to go to Russia to find a woman who could love him. This from the most sexually insecure radio personality in the history of Anchorage radio.

I called the show, to explain to Fagan that Kohring met his wife in Anchorage, where - like so many Russians I know - she had come to live because she knew fellow Russians here. When I told Fagan this, he started shouting at me, saying "You're flat-out wrong! That's a lie!" He hung up before I could reply. Well, Dan - you, who left the courthouse before anybody you couldn't hang up on could get close to your unfit, pathetic body - here's my reply - Screw You!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Week Two - Day Two - Closing Arguments

Philip Munger: There were over 70 people present in Courtroom 3 of the Federal Courthouse in Anchorage for this morning's closing arguments in the corruption case against ex-GOP legislator Vic Kohring. It was the seventh day of the trial.

Washington DC-based US Attorney Ed Sullivan opened with his only cogent presentation of the trial. It was focused and concentrated. He gave an overall assessment of the 2006 special sessions of the Alaska Legislature at which Kohring has been alleged to have conducted most of his illegal acts. He named the major oil companies backing Veco - Conoco-Phillips, Exxon and British Petroleum - something that hadn't been done in the prosecution's opening arguments.

Sullivan interspersed audio and video surveillance excerpts highlighting times Kohring took advantage of his knowledge he could milk ex-Veco CEO Bill Allen for money or favors, in exchange for co-operation, rather than, as Allen put it "going crazy" on him. Sullivan persuasively painted Kohring as a somewhat cynical opportunist who squeezed Veco so he wouldn't "screw" them. Sullivan asked the jury "How do you think Bill Allen would have felt if he knew' - Sullivan pointed to Kohring - "HE was playing him?"

Sullivan proposed that Allen would have given Kohring more money had there been a way to do that. But he couldn't, as Allen and Rick Smith were aware of growing scrutiny by the Alaska Public Office Commission, and by the media. Sullivan tied the progression of payments to Kohring with his subsequent fealty to Allen on particular, if not particularly large, issues through the special sessions.

Sullivan moved on to the matter of the job provided by Veco to Kohring's nephew. He asked "Do you think Veco was interested in Aaron [Kohring] because he was a basketball star or passed his algebra exam? No! He was hired because he was Vic Kohring's nephew." Sullivan then put a chart up on the screen - DAMN, I thought we'd be able to get through this trial without a Powerpoint presentation! -
that compared Kohring's acts to elements of the indictment.

John Henry Browne was at his best when talking to the jury about the scope, limitations and responsibilities of their duty as jurors. Others in the audience were impressed by the way he centered on this in his opening. Palmer attorney John Davies told me afterward he was moved to tears, as was my co-blogger, Fred James. I wasn't. But Davies was one of my favorite professors when I returned to college for a year in the 1980s - he was my business law prof. He's working now as Chief of Staff for Wes Keller, the man Sarah Palin appointed to take Vic Kohring's seat in the legislature.

Browne was at his worst when attempting to recount what he considered to be egregious prosecutorial errors. I caught Browne on nine Bullshit moments, where he either told a flat-out lie - "we know that Veco spent $400,000 remodeling Ted Stevens' house" - or when he chastised the Feds bringing up events during the course of the trial that had nothing to do with the charging documents. Give me a break. The Feds brought up the pickup truck Kohring tried to borrow or rent from Allen only because Kohring brings it up on a recorded conversation. But in yesterday's examination by Browne of Bob Hall, the Big Lake firworks magnate, Hall brought up a pickup truck he loaned to kohring for the 2006 campaign. Browne brought it up this morning as if the Feds had been harping away on this. Browne brought this false flag issue up three times.

Browne's low-tech charts on jury responsibilities and jury instructions went from simple - NOT GUILTY MEANS NOT PROVEN - in 140 pt. helvetica, to a two-frame poster giving Jury Instruction #13, that couldn't possibly have been read by anybody more than five feet away from the poster. Where's Ross Perot when you really need him? Browne ended up with another posterboard - BE YOUR WORD. He left it behind, on its tripod stand, as Bottini came up to deliver the Fed's final summation.

Bottini used no notes, as he quickly addressed each of Browne's points from memory. He attacked Browne's contention of a known cost for the Stevens house renovations. He attacked Browne's characterization of Bill Allen as a sleazy lobbyist, by pointing out "Sleazy lobbyist, huh? Didn't stop this guy from dinner with this sleazy lobbyist, taking this sleazy lobbyist's money, eating with him, and getting the sleazy lobbyist to pay for it."

Regarding Browne's contention that the jury must consider the possibility that Allen just plain made up the earlier, six-to-seven-hundred dollar, unrecorded payments to Kohring, Bottini laughed, asking "If Allen is making this stuff up about earlier payments, don't you think he'd do a better job?" Bottini closed, saying "Kohring knew what it took to get money out of this guy. He turned Bill Allen into a human ATM machine. Mr. Kohring traded on his public office. That's all he had to trade."

Bottini was finished, but he looked around, saw Browne's posters against the clerk's desk, picked one up, and put it on the tripod stand. It was the one that said "NOT GUILTY MEANS NOT PROVEN." He took a felt pen, and scratched out the "NOT"s. Turned to Browne and Kohring, smiled a bit, concluding the proceedings.

Second Week - Wednesday Morning - Prelude

Philip Munger: Closing arguments today. I heard each side wants about four hours, which is hard to believe. But it looks to me that the prosecution has presented the information they needed to show to prove their case. Barely. But they need to avoid the clutter that diluted this simple matter in their presentation of the prosecution's case last week.

The defense needs to get lucky. Vic Kohring's Russian good luck folk charm and John Henry Browne's elegant but forceful presentation of Kohring as victim might have already lost their novelty and luster.

Last week I mentioned the feelings some of us seemed to share after watching the video of Kohring asking Bill Allen for money, and of Kohring accepting some of it from Bill Allen and Rick Smith. I felt, as I said at the time, that:

There was an enormous gulf in the way he verbalized - so cleanly, so utterly non-profane - and the sleaziness of what he was actually, and to observers, obviously doing. I think that bothered me even more than the contrasts between his faux guile and Allen's overly done earthiness.

But Anchorage Daily News columnist, and longtime observer of the Alaskan soul, Michael Carey, has distilled his feelings about that incident, and the overall sleazily slick feeling of Kohring's modus operendi quintissentially in his recent ADN column, which I'll quote here in entirety:

The FBI audio and video surveillance tapes of Vic Kohring may prove he is a criminal. Or maybe not. Let the jury decide.

The Vic Kohring on tape with Veco executives Bill Allen and Rick Smith is incapable of adult conversation. He is a supplicant. Asking for money. Or a truck. Or a job for his nephew. Or, for God's sake, a hamburger. And always -- always -- for approval and sympathy.

Sometimes his search for approval is accompanied by bragging about his conservative pro-business beliefs. Sometimes his search for sympathy is accompanied by complaints about his health.

But in every conversation, Vic is a cloying mixture of neediness and manipulation. Vic's enemies -- and some friends -- have portrayed him as an air-headed innocent. He's not. He is blatantly calculating, if primitive, in attempting to satisfy his needs.

On the telephone or in the infamous Baranof Suite 604, Vic follows a careful script that's an elevated form of panhandling. He starts with breezy ingratiating chatter, usually punctuated by recitations of how hard he is working, makes a few comments about the political scenes, and then reaches the nut of the call: Give me something.

If Vic Kohring could sing, his signature song would be The Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg."

When Vic asks for help, for example the "loan" to pay off his credit card bill, he's also reciprocal. Hey fellas, anything I can do for you? I'll be your lobbyist. I'll influence other legislators. What do you need? For Vic Kohring, politeness is a form of currency. He seems to believe that by saying "thank you" he has traded equally.

If Allen and Smith weren't trained psychologists, they were smart enough to understand Vic's haplessness and dependency. Hence Allen's belief Vic will "kiss our ass."

How could a man like Vic Kohring rise so far in politics?

Well, give him credit: He campaigned relentlessly and repeatedly told his constituents what they wanted to hear about less government and lower taxes. Things like, in a Daily News interview, "The welfare situation is an area that's gotten way out of control. Too many freebies are taking away incentive, personal satisfaction and control of one's destiny."

And he certainly was polite.

He also was lucky. Vic always was in the majority while in the House of Representatives. If he had been in the minority, he would have remained a zealous conservative back-bencher of no consequence. As a long-serving member of the Republican majority, he could demand positions of influence.

And did.

His Republican colleagues made him chairman of the House Oil and Gas Committee. Then wouldn't send him the Petroleum Production Tax bill because they feared he would kill it.

Speaker John Harris and his colleagues should be ashamed of themselves. Vic Kohring shouldn't have been trusted to run anything, let alone the Oil and Gas Committee. I wouldn't trust him to pick up the ice cream for a church social. To buy it, he would have to bum money from a lobbyist.

As a legislator, Vic displayed minimal brain power and an unwillingness to learn. He mastered a few conservative slogans before he entered the Legislature and that was the extent of his knowledge. He was prepared to give the oil companies hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks because he self-righteously and piously believed oil industry good, government bad.

I have watched the Alaska Legislature for 40 years. Vic Kohring is the only lawmaker I have ever seen who learned nothing during his years of service. He was the same person the day he departed as the day he entered.

You might look at the FBI tapes of Vic Kohring in action and decide Vic doesn't belong in jail. But I don't think anybody, including Vic's lawyer John Henry Browne, could look at those tapes and conclude Vic Kohring ever belonged in the Alaska Legislature.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Fred Catches Up - Monday & Tuesday

Fred James:

Aloha All,

Last night was the night I SHOULD have written this but I was so tired I could not think straight. So today’s report will cover Vic’s court action for Monday and today.

Monday morning I walked into the courtroom about four minutes late and I heard Vic’s attorney John Henry Brown (JHB) still interrogating Bill Allen, the former owner of VECO. The first words I heard were, “Would you have said the word ‘fuck or motherfucker’ 38 times if you knew a camera was on you?"

Allen said "no." JHB was pointing out one of the many differences between Allen and Vic. In all the time Vic is on camera, in videos the FBI made, he is professional, polite and does not use foul language. In fact, in one video he QUOTES somebody using the word “shit” to describe something. Then he apologized to the man he was talking to, totally unaware that he too was being taped by the government.

Because in fact Vic IS a REAL GENTLEMAN. The government’s own tapes proved THAT.

Once again Bill Allen was a most uncooperative witness WHEN he spoke to JHB. He could not hear; he repeatedly asked for JHB’s questions to be repeated, he put his own hearing aids on; he asked for new government provided earphones; he could not remember, (Until JHB showed him the exact page and line where he did in fact say something.) he disputed simple questions and then asked for another earphone. But When Allen was crossed by government attorneys suddenly he could hear every question clearly and answered promptly. His memory and hearing seemed to undergo a remarkable metamorphosis when the government was talking to him. But will the ADN or Channel Two tell you this?

Again, JHB’s questions forced Allen to admit that the very government attorneys questioning him would be the men who would recommend or NOT recommend a lighter sentence for Allen when he came up before the judge. Remember, if you are reading this blog for the first time, Bill Allen and Rick Smith were the “VECO Crooks” who have both pleaded guilty to a mass of charges involving corrupting and bribing politicians in Alaska. They were taped by the FBI many times and their language was most foul.

Let’s take a break for a minute and let me describe two of the principles in this drama, John Henry Brown, (JHB), Vic’s expensive lawyer and the judge, John Sedwick. Brown is tall, 6’6” and medium to trim build. He has brown hair with slight blond streaks and quite the charmer. He’s fast on his feet and unfailingly polite to all, the judge, his opposition, Vic, me, all who meet him. I have watched him perform now for a week and a half. He is a superb actor, coming off as a master speaker and interrogator. He will occasionally turn around when he is questioning a witness and wink at someone in the audience. He smiles and appears supremely confident. I think in this case he is facing a duo of government attorneys who are both ill prepared and have virtually no REAL case.

Yesterday the judge became very angry at JHB for allowing the press to see a little piece of paper that was taken from Bill Allen while he was on the stand. It was a ”Cheat sheet” according to Allen that he had written to remind him of some of the names and dates he would likely be asked about. This is of course definitely NOT ALLOWED in court and the paper was first taken by US government attorney Joe Bottini and at JHB’s insistence, given to JHB where the matter was dropped. JHB stood his ground. The judge literally yelled at him, “Why did you DARE show that paper to the press?” JHB asserted in a more than casual voice, “Because your honor, I believe that in America we should have open trials.” as if to mock the judge for not believing in openness. Outside the courtroom he is mobbed by the press and he handles them like a benighted jury. Today a female reporter asked him how he felt about his case. JHB responded “Wonderful. The Government has FAILED to make a case!” The reported pushed, “But I saw the video, Allen gave Vic money right on the tape.” “Yes you did,” responded JHB, “That we got Allen to admit was a gift for his daughter’s girl scout uniform and her Easter Egg Hunt. Who are you going to believe? Allen, a man who has pleaded guilty to corrupting Alaska officials or Vic who has lied to no one? And would you make an important life decision basing it on the word of Bill Allen?”

Judge John Sedwick is very thin, white haired and white bearded. He frequently looks angry sitting up there on his throne. For the most part I believe he has conducted the trial fairly, showing no particular bias to either side. It has always bothered me that US government judges always refer to the OTHER US GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES in the room, the US attorneys who prosecute the case as “The Government” as if he’s somehow distant and separate from them. He’s part and parcel of the government mechanism and in most cases shares the government statist ideas as well as gets paid by us the tax victims, just as the US attorneys do. But given THAT fact, he has done a fair job; if anything he appears to give JHB more than the US attorneys in terms of granting objections.

I believe the case was won with a question to Bill Allen from JHB. After rigorous but extremely polite questioning from JHB to the government’s two main witnesses, JHB got them both to admit that three main charges in the case simply were false. The government alleged that Allen had bribed Vic with money and Vic accepted it, that Vic had been offered a job by Allen, and a loan from Allen for $17,000 dollars. In low voices, they each admitted that there was no loan, they had never given him a job and the money that had changed hands so dramatically in the video was not even for Vic. It was for his daughter. They even admitted that Vic had called them two weeks later to inform them that the girl scout uniform had been bought and the Easter Egg hunt had gone well with their donated money. And to add insult to injury to the government’s case, they admitted Vic VOTED AGAINST the bill they wanted him to push!!!!!!!!!!!

The victory was later cemented by a video the government put on. It was a case where the FBI has wired up a lackey who pretended to by Vic’s friend. They had dinner together. In this taped dinner Vic was cool, professional, and looked great. He made the very points that he has made all along which make him look like a victim in this case. For the life of me I don’t understand WHY the US government did this. They put on a video which not only did NOT make THEIR case in any way it made Vic look very professional and honest!!! That video where he ate with an old family friend (SOB FBI STOOL) Frank Prewitt, was the icing on this legal cake.

The Government persisted. They next dragged out a young woman FBI Special Agent Mary Jo Herrett, a computer techie for the government. She had been involved in taking Vic’s computer apart, dubbing the hard drive onto FBI memory banks and then examining the contents. Was this the smoking gun? Was the government about to take down Vic? Special Agent Mary Jo Herrett’s efforts at who knows what cost to the US taxpayer victims yielded two documents, one a “Red carpet List” which listed those people Vic considered important to him. BTW, I’m proud to be #6 on his list of “friends.” The other being an e-mail setting up a meeting with two people. Both amounted to zip, nada, zero. By this time it was obvious that the government was scraping the bottom of the barrel and had no real case.

Of course the largest local newspaper, the Anchorage Daily New and Channel Two, both news outlets which savaged Vic over and over again for months, did not say a peep about these obvious victories. And wont! And when Vic wins they will have snide comments about having a slick lawyer who got him off on a technicality when in fact almost any good lawyer could have done the same job. the government was THAT bad at its case. This is not to demean JHB in any way. He was masterful all week.

The government rested its case yesterday.

This morning JHB announced to the judge that he would NOT be putting Vic on the stand because he believed the government itself had brought out all the facts showing Vic to be not guilty. But he did have two witnesses. The first was Vic’s nephew Aaron Kohring. 19 year old Aaron walked into the courtroom wearing a clean but old sweater, his shoulders appearing to be about four feet wide. He’s small for an average Kohring, only about 6’4”. But he played football and basketball at Palmer High School and gained statewide recognition for both sports. Several colleges recruited him but he decided to go to the University of Alaska and study petroleum engineering. He made an ideal witness for Vic. Young, super polite, just like his uncle, tall and strong. He was straight forward and totally honest in all his answers to both JHB and the government. His testimony was short, merely showing how he knew nothing about any corrupt deals his uncle may or may not have made in his behalf.

More important, the government asked him nothing which he could not answer quickly and with dispatch. Aaron’s testimony was another loss for the government because they could not make him look deceitful or show that anything illegal took place.

The last Defense witness was Vic’s long time friend Robert Hall. Hall walked slowly to the witness stand wearing an old plaid shirt. He looked very Valley but when he began talking we learned he had a law degree, many businesses, one very well known throughout Alaska, “Gorilla Fireworks,” . Robert Hall was there to give personal testimony to the fact that Vic had NOT fired Eric Musser when Musser had worked for Vic as an aide. This was to show Bill Allen lied when he alleged that he told Vic to fire him and that Vic did!

Again the victory with this witness went to the Defense!

The government came up with one final witness. That witness was an employee of VECO who had been responsible for hiring Aaron Kohring for a summer internship. The government had charged Vic with getting that job for him... illegally using his position as a state representative to do it. That employer told JHB, “I believe Aaron did a wonderful job for us.’ That statement was wonderful to hear from a witness the government had placed there hoping to impugn Vic. Instead the last words to the jury were that Vic’s nephew was a great worker!!!

With this the jury was dismissed for the day and we learned that we should have jury instructions and the summations tomorrow. This case could go to the jury as early as tomorrow noon! Then we wait!

My prediction?

Vic will be found NOT GUILTY on all charges.

Finally, a good friend, a man who is well read in philosophy and physics wrote me an e-mail which I would like to quote briefly. He has read the mainstream press and watched the collectivist Channel Two. He has also read this blog. He wrote this about Vic’s trial:

Aside from watching the WTC collapse, this is the most profound, in-my-face evil that I have ever witnessed in human affairs. Instead of thousands of remote strangers being immolated by Allah worshipers, this is a single man being subjected to slow, systematic torture and destruction by government worshipers.

And like that day on September 11, this travesty is making me feel a little dirty for merely being the same species as the prosecutors, witnesses, newspapermen, and genuinely bribed politicians.

My heart is with you and your lonely battle against these evil people, and I felt it was time to say "thanks".

IL Fettucinni

Week Two - Day Two - Morning

Philip Munger: I had to leave at about 10:25 a.m. to get ready to teach at UAA this morning and early afternoon.

The defense presented two witnesses, Aaron Kohring and Robert Hall. The young Kohring - 19 years old - is Vic Kohring's nephew who was hired by Veco for the summer of 2006, to work in their intern program for colleges students who are majoring in engineering. I've been following this bright kid since he was a junior at Palmer High School, and know a lot of his friends and class mates. He projected well on the stand. Even if he didn't technically qualify for the program, he's the sort of kid who most employers would eagerly hire. He was followed by Big Lake fireworks magnate and right wing political activist Robert Hall. Hall testified about the length and depth of his relationship with Kohring, which dates back to Dimond High School, when both played in Jim Parcell's excellent symphonic band, and graduated together - in 1976.

Hall, no matter what one thinks of his politics, is one of the most fascinating people in the Mat-Su Valley. His testimony didn't help Kohring's case much, but Prosecutor Sullivan's cross examination was fairly hapless, as Sullivan walked himself into one minefield after another, illustrating amply the adage "Don't ask a question to somebody on the stand unless you know how he will answer."

The defense then rested its case. As I left, the prosecution was preparing to present a CH2M Hill employee regarding aspects of the hire of Aaron Kohring at Veco in 2006. The afternoon, which I might have to skip, will probably be taken up with jury instructions prior to closing arguments tomorrow.

Week Two - Day Two - Preface

Philip Munger: Still waiting on a post from Fred James for Monday. I'll be at the first hour of the morning portion of the trial, and back for much of the afternoon.

I've been mulling over John Henry Browne's decision to go minimalist on the defense presentation of this proceeding. Steve Aufrecht isn't so sure that Browne will actually not call anyone to the stand - except possibly Kohring:

Defense attorney Browne said after the jury was dismissed for the day, “Speaking candidly, I may not put on a defense.” (I’m always alert when people suddenly say they are speaking candidly. What were they doing before?) He then asked some questions about whether witnesses would be allowed to testify about Kohring’s habit of being very friendly and offering to help. After some questioning the judge said no. I’d heard at lunch from a close friend of Kohring, that his nephew was going to be called. And he said afterward he’d been told to call all the witnesses to cancel. I’m not entirely convinced. We’ll see.

On my laptop, while writing about this trial, I'm watching C-SPAN 3's coverage of the House Judiciary Committee hearings about the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division's concentration under the Bush administration on minority voter suppression, rather than on voters' rights. Watching Alabama Representative Artur Davis questioning division chief John Tanner about the conduct of his office is waking me up fully that the lawyering in the Kohring case, especially in the realm of hammering away at getting facts out of somebody on the stand, hasn't been stellar. Just solid. Davis, my favorite Democrat on this important U.S. House committee, is an ex-U.S. Prosecutor with a lot of criminal trial experience.

Off to get ready for a long, long day in Anchorage.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Week Two - Day One - Prosecution Rests

Philip Munger: Attempting to tidy up the least tidy of the three GOP oil legislation corruption cases brought forth so far by the U.S. Department of Justice against prominent former Alaska legislators, U.S. Attorney Joseph Bottini brought a sitting state senator, an ex commissioner of corrections, the head of the ethics office of the Alaska Public Offices Commission and two FBI agents into the courtroom to testify about their relation to the Vic Kohring case. None resonated fully in respect to deepening the facts about the charging documents. Although the morning's proceedings revealed new information - mostly about potentially new cases - this afternoon's testimony seemed to merely provide the public with an e-mail exchange between Kohring and ex-Veco VP Rick Smith; and a gossip-laden "Red Carpet List." Both had been extracted by the FBI from Kohring's Wasilla legislative office's computer hard drive.

The list is available at the Anchorage Daily News political blog. The only surprise name to me on the list was in the last category - "Supporters." Back from the brink of local forgetfulness comes Pete Zamarello, about whom I commented after the first day of the trial. I had no idea Pete was still a player in local politics.

The undercover videos made by Frank Prewitt were underwhelming compared to those featured at the beginning of the trial showing Kohring whoring for any scrap he could beg from Allen. The silliest testimony of the trial was given by a woman who heads the Ethics Office of the Alaska Public Offices Commission. She's from Minnesota, a recent emigre to the farther North. She spoke the most fluent beauraucratese I've heard recently. She seemed to have page after chapter of Alaska Statutes and Administrative Code memorized word for word. With the Minnesota accent, I couldn't figure out if she should be a skit from Prairie Home Companion, or with the government-speak, from Monty Python. I couldn't see how her testimony bolstered the Feds' case.

And that goes for a lot of the rest of the testimony heard this afternoon. It was somewhat underwhelming. It certainly didn't tidy up the loose ends I'd been wondering about all week long.

The defense opens tomorrow. It will be a very minimalist show. John Henry Browne had hoped to present three (ex-Anchorage Mayor Tom Fink, Big Lake fireworks magnate Bob Hall and one other - no, NOT Pete Zamarello) as witnesses as to Kohring's use of the term "I'll do anything you want," "Is there anything I can do to help," and so forth. Which leaves the defense with whether or not to call Kohring to the stand.

I'm not ready to make any predictions, but, in spite of my admiration for some of the tactical elements of Bottini's handling of this, overall, I'd call the U.S. presentation sketchy. For the amount of money they spent flying people in and out of Anchorage to testify in this case alone, they could have acted on Ray Metcalfe's information a year earlier and bagged a whole herd of bigger game before Metcalfe's exposure of Ben Stevens brought the most wary crooks back behind the tree line.

Week Two - Day One - Morning

Philip Munger: The morning was taken with cross, re-direct and re-cross testimony of ex-Veco CEO Bill Allen. John Henry Browne sought to continue chipping away at the perception jurors might have that Allen's testimony isn't influenced by the threat of the deal Allen has made with the Feds coming unglued. I'll address that this evening. But important information came out this morning, that I'll outline here:

1) A distinction seems to be emerging from Browne's inquiry into the nature of the agreement Allen has with the Feds between illegal payments, bribes and gifts, as being three separate matters addressed in the still sealed aspects of the overall set of cases.

2) Bill Allen's nephew, Dave Anderson, who came up in the earlier cases, was mentioned again today in context of the term "blackmail." But today, Browne elicited from Allen that the blackmail threats were directly connected with the remodeling of Ted Stevens's Girdwood home.

3) Bill Allen appears to have stipulated in his plea agreement with DoJ that he made over $400,000 in "illegal payments" to Alaska politicians. As Browne was continually attempting to differentiate between payments, bribes and gifts in his questioning, it appears there is a lot of room for speculation as to how much is still up in the air for future cases. But it is pretty clear that about $115,000 in "illegal payment money is unaccounted for so far, even when you count in Ben Stevens and Bruce Weyrauch.

4) When questioned about Ted's house improvements, Allen stated that those improvements aren't being counted in the "illegal payment" category.

Week Two - Day One - Preface

Philip Munger: Fred James and I went to the Anchorage Symphony Saturday evening, for the premiere of Chris Brubeck's Spontaneous Combustion, a jazzy concerto for violin and orchestra. The jazz-based concert featured selections from Leonard Bernstein's On the Town, Darius Milhaud's Creation of the World, and George Gershwin's An American in Paris. Best ASO concert for my wife and me in a while - very well played and enthusiastically received.

Brubeck's concerto was the fifth product in less than five years by the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra's new work commissioning club, Musica Nova. Created in 2003 for the purpose of commissioning a work per year. Beginning with my Piano Concerto, the results, so far, of this annual enterprise have been a legacy of four solo concerti and a tone poem. You can click on the titles of the movements of my Piano Concerto to hear them played by the Anchorage Symphony, with pianist Juliana Osinchuk:

I. Tug Ruby XIV II. The Dark Passage III. Channel Fever

This week, both Fred James and I will be contributing more - and more varied - entries. Over the weekend, two important articles on the trial's defense aspects came out. The Anchorage Daily News's Lisa Demer wrote an article, titled Kohring's lawyer is known for being flamboyant, effective, that looks into the background of the lead attorney for Kohring's defense team. The article's comments contain even more biographical information on Browne. Fellow trial blogger, Steve Aufrecht has attempted a biographical sketch of Vic Kohring, titled The Enigma that is Vic Kohring. Steve asks some important questions about missing gaps in Kohring's official bios.

Steve also notifies us of the following event:

Several of us who have been at the trials will be talking on this subject Thursday at noon in the federal building cafeteria. The event is sponsored by the local chapter of the American Society for Public Administration. So some of these thoughts are warm up for that session.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Vic’s Accusers Get Examined by a Master

Fred James: Last night I was kicked off Vic’s potential testify list for being too old and ugly. Nah, just kidding. They said I was too Fat, old and ugly.

Anyway I was free to actually observe the court session today from 9 AM until it wrapped up at 3:48 PM. This is what I saw:

There were only two witnesses all day, Rick Smith and Bill Allen, two men who were accused by the Feds earlier and plead guilty to a bunch of counts which could put them both away for years. I will simply refer to them as “The VECO Crooks.” More on their status later.

At about 9:07 AM John Henry Brown resumed his cross from the day earlier on Rick Smith. Smith, white haired and white beard with a deep, low voice has a real problem remembering. However most of the data Browne was after was on a WRITTEN transcript from the FBI videos. So for an hour or so the cross went like this:
Browne: Do you remember why you did such and such? Ah: Ah...well, I can’t recall.
Browne: Page seven lines 12 through 17. Please read them to yourself.
Smith: (After reading the passages Sotto Voce): Well yes.

It went on like this as Browne gradually teased out one admission after another which bolstered Vic’s position. For example Smith said Allen would FREQUENTLY give money to kids. And that it was Allen’s idea to give the money to Vic for an Easter egg Hunt. This is tantamount to saying...We were not bribing Vic on that one. We wanted to help the kids! Browne, after much hassle with Smith denying and not remembering, finally admitted that the US government was going to make recommendations to the trial judge which COULD act to lesson his sentence...IF SMITH DID CERTAIN THINGS IN RETURN!! Like testify, wear wires, make Government “monitored phone calls” trying to entrap people. After so much talk from the “VECO Crooks” about “Owning Vic’s ass, guess who actually owns their asses now?

Smith’s body language and memory were highly negative when Browne spoke to him. When US attorney Edward Sullivan (One of their NEW leash holders) then asked questions of Smith, Smith’s memory became alive and potent. He answered questions rapidly and attended Sullivan like a good pet dog. Another blogger I know who witnessed this remarkable transition came to roughly the same conclusion.

After Smith, US Attorney Joe Bottini spoke to Bill Allen. He walked him through his early life, how he got into the pipeline business, how he went from a kid who left high school as a sophomore, gradually worked his way up the ladder to becoming a multi-millionaire with thousands of employees. Allen, 70, described his motorcycle accident which banged his head and which caused him to have difficulty getting ideas “from my brain to my lips’ and finding words.” He had walked slowly up to the witness box and put on a pair of headphones to hear.

Allen, for all his physical problems and age, seemed to have a good recall of many events WHEN BOTTINI asked the questions. Bottini asked him why VECO left the North Sea Field which was apparently lucrative. Smith told him that when Norway began to raise taxes he sold out and put the money Alaska’s North Slope.

Allen admitted under examination:

* an entire litany of who he paid off, who he gave jobs too, why he promoted Rick Smith who conducted fundraisers for VECO, “He done good.” to giving bonuses to employees for the purpose of them giving the money to VECO back politicians.

Brown asked him, given all the charges on Allen, was he ever arrested, handcuffed and taken to jail?” This was to compare him to Vic who WAS cuffed and taken to jail just long enough so that the press could take pictures.

Brown got Allen to admit eventually, after about fifteen minutes of evasion, that yes, he had cut the same deal with the US government as Smith, to do the government’s bidding, wear a wire, call people with the FBI listening in and testify at trials in return for the US making recommendations at his sentencing. He admitted that, as it were, HIS ass was in the government’s sling too.In addition when Allen spoke to Bottini he was relatively animated and answered questions almost cheerfully and his memory improved when he spoke to the attorneys who would make these recommendations!!!

By the end of the day the US government’s case was whittled down by Brown to two items, a grainy black and white video where Allen is giving Vic an unknown amount of money for his daughter’s Easter egg hunt and a girl scout uniform, and the word of Allen principally that he gave Vic sums of cash. It looks like it will come down in the end to “VECO Crooks’” word against Vic’s.

Why should we believe them when we KNOW they are singing like canaries to keep their butts out of the Federal Slammer or at least REDUCE their prison terms due to good recommendations from their new government masters.

Monday the interrogation of Bill Allen should end and the US Government might wrap its case by late Monday or Tuesday. Then the defense opens its arsenal and the case should get REALLY interesting!

IL Fettucinni

Day Five - Fred is Freed

Philip Munger: My blogging colleague, Fred James, has been freed from the potential witness list. You'll be reading more of him now. I left my legal pad with the entire week's notes on a counter in the 2nd floor men's room of the courthouse this afternoon. Hopefully, I'll get it back on Monday.

I had to work this morning, so was only at the trial in the afternoon. I commented yesterday that John Henry Browne's take on Alaskans may be deficient. I also said he hadn't yet committed any irreversible errors that might alienate him from the jury. I'm still working on that premise, but I find the dumb-ass query he made yesterday regarding the quality of legal help available to Alaskans in-state to have been one that unintentionally skirted the edge of the ice.

Whether Browne underestimates the ability of a blue-collar jury of Alaskans to sift through all this shit or not is yet to be seen. I know from thousands of examples in my life here, that local knowledge counts, and that if you navigate into any waters, trails or unknown territory here without experience, you're at a disadvantage. Note to John Henry Browne - there is no Cicely, Alaska.

I came to Alaska in 1973 to get away from artists whose personalities I perceived to be incomplete and whose lifestyles were too urban, indoor and sedentary for me to contemplate for my own future. They were my peers. Most were more intelligent than me IQ-wise. But most couldn't survive for a few days without the default urban support system, that I felt was deeply flawed and dangerous to rely upon. I fled.

Many times since, I've failed in one arena or another because I wasn't practical enough to compete with people less intelligent, but more savvy then me. I've learned enough to respect such people, study them, approach them and befriend them if there was a chance of convergence on one or more levels.

I developed a theory I'll call the PQ Theory. Essentially, it is this:

Take a person's IQ Test score. Set it aside.

Put him through a series of simple survival tests like:
making coffee
cleaning up after himself
knowing when to ask for directions
tying a knot
starting a fire
not freaking out about having to do this

I call the results of this set of simple evaluations DQ Tests - The Density Quotient.

Subtract the DQ from the IQ.

The result is the person's PQ - Practicality quotient. Many Alaskans' PQs are far higher than our nation's average PQ. By a lot. That's a large part of why I love this place so much, and am fascinated by the makeup of the Kohring Jury.

When Judge Sedwick reminded Counsel Browne that there were only eight minutes to go before he dismissed the jury early for he weekend so they might return home, I moved to where I could watch the jurors for the remaining time.
Browne didn't quite hurry the affair up at that point - he's very good, very experienced. But he forgot what little decorum - false as it had been - toward ex-Veco chief Allen, and began treating Allen almost like a cypher.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but in those last seven minutes, Browne lost any ground he may have made during the past two days, as he became more inattentive, and the jurors paid total attention to everything going on around them. Browne didn't seem to notice this.

He's misunderestamated our common Alaskan. Kohring would have been tens of thousands ahead by now had he hired somebody like Weidner instead. Weidner, an Abraham Lincoln scholar, would know this jury like Abe knew his Civil War Presidential cabinet by now.

Bottini was excellent in his examination of Bill Allen. His obvious humanity toward a man I despise shook me up a little. Thanks to Priscilla Horner for sharing her morning notes with me after the afternoon session.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Day Four - Afternoon - Fiddle Faddle!

Philip Munger: That's right - Fiddle Faddle! That'll get me in the mood to talk about John Henry Browne's cross-examination technique.

Fiddle-Faddle was the title of one of LeRoy Anderson's greatest hits. He's the guy who wrote The Syncopated Clock, The Typewriter, Blue Tango and many other pop classic pieces that populated the American airwaves in the 1950s. Think Lawrence Welk in the concert hall to imagine his music, if you don't know of it. But, wait! If you don't know LeRoy anderson, you probably don't know Lawrence Welk. But, wait, again! We all get to hear a little bit of LeRoy Anderson every Christmas. He also wrote the perennial secular Christmas piece, Sleigh Ride.

There was once a big audience for LeRoy Anderson and his music. Times have changed. A lot. Maybe there's a town somewhere that has a LeRoy Anderson Festival every year. But the styles he portrayed seldom resonate now with anyone under 50 years old.

I was thinking of another way to describe John Henry Browne this afternoon as I watched him work the jury. He's been described as Eddie Haskell, and as Sir John Henry Browne. Both are valid, as they cover aspects of his courtroom presence. I've already explained here why I have enormous respect for this interesting attorney. But I was struggling for a term to describe why I think his strategy isn't working. And I came up with "fiddle-faddle," which can also mean screwing around with something, or wasting time.

I got a sense that his constant fussing over aspects of Rick Smith's confessional agreement with the Feds isn't resonating with the jury. At all. I watched some of them yesterday afternoon, outside the court building, as they waited for transportation home or away to their temporary lodging. This is a fairly blue-collar jury. The weather turned markedly toward winter yesterday, and is unpredictable today. It is a time when blue-collar Alaskans are concerned with dealing with the cold weather around their homes or businesses. I didn't dare talk to any of them, but I could feel that their pensiveness was as much about their concerns over the weather as about their responsibility as jurors, which I've seen them express in the courtroom.

Alaskans are remarkably resilient to being taken along novel paths by outsiders. Several instances occurred yesterday and today, where Browne showed his lack of understanding of the uniqueness of Alaska and Alaskans. He hasn't made the irreverseable error of talking down to the jury, but he's failed the common test put against outsiders when they have to try to talk about aspects of our place to us and blow it.

Fred James: Since I’m on the defense’s potential testimony list, I’m barred from the courtroom UNTIL I’ve testified. Thus I flew all the way here from Washington but can’t actually see and hear the case yet!! How totally frustrating!

However I can still read newspapers, watch the grainy black and white videos on the adn.com site that allege Bill Allen is “Buying Vic’s vote and heart.” I listen to every point of view I can. Since the government is presenting its case now, many of the comments I’ve heard are negative and full of finger pointing at Vic.

There is no doubt that Allen tried to bribe Vic. But it is not clear to me why it would be necessary when Vic is famous for his pro free enterprise, pro-industry, anti-tax, anti-big government political philosophy. Not only has Vic written consistently in newspapers around the state what amounts to a concise manifesto of 21st Century Laissez-faire, he has courageously voted for it time after time over his political career. Many times the vote tally would be 19 to 1, Vic the prominent dissenter.

Moreover, Vic has voted in favor of free enterprise and against what he called the “Leviathan State” in all areas, not merely oil and gas. Several years ago there came up a bill in the state House to introduce more taxes on, of all things, snow machines. There was not much hue and cry over this small but obviously odious, little tax. Vic spoke and voted against it. This has been his wonderfully consistent pattern for the most part. (I say “for the most part” because Vic has commented to me that now and then, some bills are so confusing and poorly written that it’s hard to tell what they do! So he had to make his best guess.)

Given his open record and consistent voting why do you have to bribe him? You already know which way he will vote. If the bill expands the state or increases taxes, Vic will vote no! If a bill opens up the market or cuts taxes, Vic will blister his finger pressing the yes button!

Thus the Feds can allege Vic accepted bribes from Allen but how will they prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this is what happened instead of Vic’s insistence that he was accepting gifts from a friend for his daughter? If you KNEW the daughter, it is quite easy to see how this could come about. She is a darling, animated, intelligent, young lady of about 12 now.

There are many subsidiary issues. Was Vic hurting financially? If so, why? Did he ask for a loan from multi-millionaire Bill Allen? Why? If Allen wanted to control Vic, why bribe him and risk jail when a simple and legal loan might have accomplished the same end? I emphasize the word “might.”

After I testify or am taken off the list to testify, I’ll start going in to the court to watch the defense unleash its case. What is not in doubt at this time is the vast sum of money the feds are spending to bring in jurors from all over Alaska, feed and house them as well as the little battalion of FBI agents who have to wait their turn to testify.

All over a guy who who asked the wrong crook for a loan.

Next time we can deal with the really bizarre and banal allegation that Vic got his nephew a job, using his public office illegally to do so! Until then don’t believe what the Feds or Allen say, without the proof in hand. Too many innocent men have been railroaded off to prison on insinuations or gossip, their lives and their loved ones’ lives in tatters, only to find out three years later through DNA or other hard evidence that the guy was innocent all along! Hard proof is a rare commodity.

IL Fettucinni

Day Four - Morning - Reds!

Philip Munger: I'm giving mid-terms at UAA this morning and early afternoon. What crappy weather!

I didn't take on Vic's Wednesday comments about the Mat-Su Borough government, which he characterized as "socialist," nor his similar but more severe take on Palmer-based Friends of Mat-Su, as "communist," because I didn't transcribe the comments very well, and they were in overall context of disparaging comments about other organizations and media outlets he perceives as being dangerous to America. Part of this is because I'm a board member, past secretary, vice-president and acting president of Friends of Mat-Su.

But I will say that I find it strange that this guy who was so bothered by inflamed or inaccurately passionate comments about his actions to feel a need to go around Juneau wearing a bulletproof vest, to be so similarly inflamed toward his perceived enemies. The term "communist" or "commie" is loosely thrown around by wingnut Dan Fagan quite often, too. When he dislikes somebody or something, they're "socialist." When he's really pissed, he calls them "communist." Why these inaccurate and essentially libelous categorizations of ideas and people they dislike?

Excellent take on Browne's strategy of calling in so many FBI agents from around the country by Steve Aufrecht at his trial blog. And Lisa Demer's long, thorough, chronology-based article at the Anchorage Daily News provides links to trial video and audio.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Day Three - Afternoon - Bill Kill, Part One

Philip Munger: I got in to the afternoon session of the trial today just as they had started playing a surveillance video of Kohring in the Baranof suite of Bill Allen. Although I already knew from reading the charging documents what had transpired, it was the first time I watched the conversation while listening. I tried putting down in my own words how I felt about the way Kohring seems to be verbalizing in the conversation. The combinations of enormous gulfs between his conversational tone and what was going down didn't bother just me. Others in the room seemed very pensive, even uncomfortable.

During a recess, Steve Aufrecht, Michael Carey and I were talking about this, all three of us sort of bewildered. Does Vic even come close to understanding how so many of us feel about him as we watch this transpire? Even though he often comes across in conversations I've had with him as childlike, guileless, and as a sort of incomplete personality, none of us felt that while watching the video of him begging Allen for money and not coming up with an answer to his dilemma.

We were pretty much in agreement that a small tragedy is unfolding here regarding a possible upcoming flash of awareness on Vic's part about this, when Steve noticed a little round thing on the ceiling. All three of us laughed as we realized it looked like an electronic "bug." Then Vic walked up, smiling vacuously as he greeted us with his weird affability. I pointed to the thing on the ceiling. Vic laughed a nervous attempt at heartiness, and said "I'm not afraid of having anything I say recorded."

Back to the video tape that includes the cash exchange. There was an enormous gulf in the way he verbalized - so cleanly, so utterly non-profane - and the sleaziness of what he was actually, and to observers, obviously doing. I think that bothered me even more than the contrasts between his faux guile and Allen's overly done earthiness.

He also continually exaggerated the significance of daily events - a radio appearance on Dan Fagan's program, a radio appearance on a nationwide NRA show, a speech he made at the Palmer High School basketball awards banquet, the value of his house and other things. I used to think this aspect of Vic's personality was a basic insecurity. I'm not so sure anymore. I think it is more complex.

Driving back to the Valley with me co-blogger in waiting, Fred James, Fred talked on the cell to Vic a couple of times, as we fought an enormous traffic jam for four hours (!!!) I can guarantee you that Kohring continues to have the highest hopes.

Day Three - Morning

Philip Munger: The third day is beginning about now, and I'm at home, waiting for the traffic to thin out on the icy roads between Palmer and Anchorage. Over two inches of snow at the house last night.

Sure enough, the headline in the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman on yesterday's disclosures is:

Prosecution: VECO CEO talked Kohring out of running for Sen. Green’s seat

The lead paragraph of the story by Russell Stigall goes on to say:

A surprise allegation in opening arguments Tuesday afternoon in the corruption trial of former state Rep. Vic Kohring claims influence from oil interests did more than bribe the lawmaker. Prosecutors told a jury of 12 and three alternates empanelled earlier in the day they will show that in addition to accepting bribes from former VECO CEO Bill Allen, Kohring twice abstained from running against Republican state Sen. Lyda Green at Allen’s request.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Day Two - Afternoon - Opening Arguments

Philip Munger: I sandwiched opening arguments between teaching and rehearsing today. Just home, at 10:30 p.m.

Federal Prosecutor Joe Bottini laid out a narrative that included new information about a late evening walk at the end of the first Special Session of the Alaska Legislature last year. According to Bottini, Kohring was the hardest to manage of the people whose "asses" former Veco CEO Bill Allen claimed to own. His descriptions - and Kohring attorney Browne's - reminded me of a statement Anchorage strip mall developer Pete Zamarello made to me almost 30 years ago when he was over for dinner at our condo in Whittier.

Zamarello, after a couple glasses of Heitz Brothers Grignolino, was waxing eloquently about the politicians he then owned. But he was disappointed with the then current results. Plaintively, he cried "Feel (that's how he pronounced my name), Feel, Feel. Politicians! They're all the same. You bribe them and you bribe them and you bribe them, and what? They steel do whatever they want to do."

I couldn't help but laugh as he pronounced "still" as "steal." Pete rarely drank, but I poured him another glass of wine, and he told more stories.

Today, Bottini's story that nobody had yet heard was of a scam Bill Allen and friends cooked up to try to get Vic Kohring to miss a vote. He had to be present in the House chambers for an item Allen wanted killed to pass. So they arranged to meet at McDonalds, talked a bit, and while walking around the glistening streets of Juneau, supposedly killing time and bills, Bill Allen passed Vic a few hundred more bucks.

It was as close to a colorful story as Bottini got to today, but it had no ending. Did Vic get back to the House floor? Did the vote fail, or happen, because of the walk? I guess we have to stay tuned.

The seats were fairly full for the opening. I counted about 50 people, over 20 of whom had scratch pads. Several people down from the Mat-Su Valley. And a couple of prominent attorneys unconnected to the case. Phil Weidner was there, looking more than a little like APRN reporter Steve Heimel's older, unkempt brother. Weidner appeared to be there to catch a glimpse of, and to hear John Henry Browne. Both are legendary defense attorneys. I caught Bottini giving Weidner a very respectful nod as they passed outside the chambers.

But Weidner left in the middle of Browne's presentation. I can't blame him. I've seen Weidner on fire in front of juries as he opened. It isn't that Browne was dispassionate, but he did seem poorly organized, unable to create the narrative Kohring needs.

His main defense isn't novel, either for this case or for this set of cases. Kohring works hard, is nice, returns calls, sleeps on a couch, and lives in a mobile home behind his parents' house. He didn't actually do anything as important for Allen for the money he was given as other, more important or more acquiescent politicians like - a long list of names here - did.

And the money wasn't used on table dances at the Bush Company. It bought Easter eggs - or filled them with $100 dollar bills - for his Russian stepdaughter.

And the Bill Allen as person desperate to say anything as a compromised Mountainview crack dealer meme was thrown out there. Once again. You don't have to look far recently to hear that one being repeated again and again as one of the new GOP talking points. Quite often by people like Dan Fagan, who would have drunk a gallon of Bill Allen's pee 16 months ago if so ordered.

As an example, a recent Ketchikan Daily News editorial stated:

Is it possible that the VECO boys who plea bargained with federal prosecutors simply are trying to save themselves and their families? Does the evidence of their confessions and convictions show that they aren't the most trustworthy witnesses? Isn't it important to consider the integrity and the character of an accuser in an investigation?

Browne took this no further today than a small paper in Southeast Alaska recently did. He'll have to develop this theme like a virtuoso to help his client.

Oh, yeah. Sen. Lyda Green will not be happy with this trial.

Day Two - Morning

Philip Munger: I teach this morning, but I'll be at Courtroom 3 for the afternoon, which is expected to be devoted mostly to opening arguments. The prosecution and defense both informed Judge Sedwick yesterday that they expect their presentations to last forty minutes.

Excellent coverage of this trial is also being presented by Steve, over at What do I Know? Lisa Demer at the Anchorage Daily News covered Monday with this article.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Day One - Afternoon

Philip Munger: The first day of jury selection ended with conclusion of the first phase of Voire dire, related to screening out people predisposed against the case one way or another by exposure to the media or to other people involved in this or the other related Veco corruption trials - past, or publicly scheduled for the future. 56 possible jurors were interviewed. Five were excused for health or work-related reasons; one white male, because it was felt he was too hesitant in unqualifying his predisposition.

The most humor came from the next-to last person interviewed, a70ish white female, with a crusty sense of humor and major reservations about law enforcement procedures. Given that her husband is a law enforcement professional, she was given a lot of time to explain both this issue and possible discomfort because of a physical malady. Judge Sedwick, when questioning her about how much she or the court might be inconvenienced, was startled when she replied "I've been living with this for 20 years, Honey!" The courtroom erupted. Kohring seemed to be waiting to laugh until he knew it would be OK to let it out.

When questioning this crusty Alaska matron about her media reading habits, she replied "I read the funnies, the advice columns, the letters to the editor, then the front page. The important things first." Sedwick quipped back "I read the obituaries first - to make sure I'm still alive."

Anchorage attorney and libertarian political activist Wayne Anthony Ross - who is on Kohring's legal team - kept coming up. Everybody seemed to know him. I know him. Fred James knows him. Other aspects of Alaska as biggest small town in the world cropped in there, too. Anchorage AM talk radio is a concern of both the prosecution and defense. No surprise there. They're just trying to weed out the nuts who seem to spend too much time being brainwashed. Loose cannons can't help either side.

John Henry Browne is fascinating. To say the least. He claimed to the judge during the morning session that his direct, friendly attitude toward prospective jurors is just the way he is, not a technique. I'm not so sure. But he is very engaging and gregarious. During the late afternoon recess, I approached him outside the courthouse, introducing myself. I told him that in my research of his past cases I realized he was the attorney who had been pivotal in the reversal,
about a decade ago, of the outrageous cases in Wenatchee, Washington, of a number of people falsely convicted of child sexual abuse by a cabal of really strange people.

Browne told me "I'm more proud of that than of anything else I've done."

"You should be - nobody else had any balls, until you stepped up" was my response. Browne beamed. I hope to find time to talk to him about that before this trial is over.

Tomorrow morning will be general 2nd stage
Voire dire. The hope is that the afternoon session will be taken up with opening statements.

Day One - Morning

Philip Munger: I got into Courtroom 3 almost an hour after jury selection began, late from changing my wife's Subaru over to winter tires.

Over 25 potential jurors were interviewed over the course of the morning. Mostly 50ish white males, mostly from Anchorage. Two from Vic Kohring's district in Wasilla, one woman from the Bethel area and one woman from Unalaska - this is a big district. The majority seemed very uninformed about the series of events, of which this trial is a part.

Five people on the Fed bench, two on the defendant's. Ex-Representative Kohring seemed artificially optimistic as he smiled broadly and held his chin high. Judge Sedwick seems very accomodating toward all. There were only 13 in the audience, ten of us taking notes, one sketching Kohring and his attorney, John Henry Browne.

Particular attention seemed to be directed toward what kinds of radio, especially talk radio, the potential jurors listen to. Two local talk show hosts came up. One 60ish white male, with a well-cared-for long, silvery goatee, when asked why he was particularly interested in listening to KFQD's Dan Fagan, replied that he's "the kind a guy I love to hate." Another, a listener to KENI's Rick Rydell, commented that he mostly "doesn't agree with him." This might be confusing to Browne, who is from Seattle and might be at a loss when it comes to local nuance. Maybe not.

Judge Sedwick, after noting that Browne had complimented more than one juror for "truthful, honest answers - the best yet," got Browne to agree not to do that again.

During a short recess, I spoke with Kohring, who thanked me for an e-mail I had written to him before his resignation, encouraging him to not resign until they pried his fingers from his office door. Apparently, he missed my snark. Then. We'll see how it goes this week.

Fred James: Borrrrrr-ing....

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Why this blog?

On Monday, October 22nd, 2007, at 9:00 a.m. Alaska time, the trial of former Republican State Representative Vic Kohring on multiple Federal charges will begin at Courtroom 3 in Anchorage's Federal Building.

Kohring's contact with Federal agents began at his Wasilla legislative office on August 31, 2006, when Federal agents searched more than 20 locations around Alaska, including the offices of Kohring and five other legislators. At the time, Kohring issued a statement claiming that he had been told by the FBI that he wasn't "a target" of an investigation.

Eight weeks later, he was re-elected to his seventh term in the Alaska House of Representatives, with about 60% of the vote. His opponent was Katie Hurley, a former legislator from that district, secretary of the State's Constitutional Convention, and one of the most highly respected Democrats in Alaska.

In January, 2007, Kohring returned to Juneau, the state capitol for the regular session of the legislature. During the session he served as Chairman of the powerful Special Committee on Oil and Gas, and on other committees. Kohring, a very Libertarian-oriented Republican, has always been seen by the oil industry as a supportive lawmaker.

On May 4, 2007 Kohring was arrested and indicted on four counts of conspiracy to commit extortion and attempted extortion under color of official right and bribery. Within days, the House leadership stripped him of his chairmanship.

As soon as the legislative session ended, Kohring came under growing pressure to step down. Alaska Governor, Republican Sarah Palin, who had been elected in November, 2006 as a maverick known for her strong stance against corruption within her own party, advised him to consider resigning. A recall petition in his home district soon gained the necessary signatures to be placed on the Autumn, 2007 ballot.

On June 19, Kohring announced his resignation - to be effective on July 19. Since then, he has been involved with developing a defense, hiring Seattle attorney John Henry Browne as his chief advocate.

So far, four key figures in the same series of events involving Vic Kohring have been convicted. Former legislator Tim Anderson has been convicted and sentenced to five years. Former Representative Pete Kott has been convicted, and awaits sentencing. Former Veco CEO Bill Allen pled guilty to bribing a number of legislators, and is serving, along with ex-Veco Vice President for Community & Government Affairs Rick Smith, up to ten years. Former Representative Bruce Weyhrauch faces trial in 2008. Former State Senate President Ben Stevens, son of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens has been named as one of the legislators Allen and Smith bribed, so the younger Stevens is expected to be indicted sometime in the future, and speculation about more indictments is rampant.

On October 3, 2007, Federal prosecutors unsealed another four-count indictment against Kohring, which extended the scope of their interest in Kohring back further than the original counts.

But, why this trial blog? First of all, there will be two of us making entries. We've been close friends since the fall of 1984, when we both were employed at KABN-AM radio in Big Lake, Alaska. We're both dedicated lovers of classical music and, especially, of live opera. We are both staunch 2nd Amendment advocates, love our cats and our main squeezes, but beyond that, we often differ. One of the subjects we've seldom agreed upon is the political value of Vic Kohring when he was in office. We will probably disagree on aspects of the trial as it progresses.

Philip Munger: I've been involved in Alaska politics since 1973, and have been on a first-name basis with most of my legislators, local, state and national ever since. I've worked at sea, in law enforcement and public safety, and have been a college music teacher since 1995. I'm mostly known in Alaska as a composer. My politics tend to the left, most notably on environmental and social justice issues. My community activism finds me on the board of Friends of Mat-Su, a local body concerned with zoning and quality-of-life issues in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. I'm a Democrat, and am currently volunteering as the Issues Coordinator for the Diane Benson for U.S. Congress campaign. I live near Palmer, Alaska.

Fred James: Aloha, I’'m Fred James but I write as IL Fettucinni.

My interest in Vic’'s trial is very personal. I'’ve known the man since 1992. I have watched his growth in public speaking and political analysis skills since he first won public office in 1994. I am his friend and advisor, his editor on occasions and his sounding board. He is, without exception, one of the most honest men I have ever known. Over the years I’ve got to know his father Heinze, his mother Delores, his sister Pat and his nephew Aaron. All are solid, moral wonderful people who one would quickly trust with their life.

Another interesting thing about him, he should never attempt to play poker and expect to win because he wears his emotions on his sleeves. When he speaks he says precisely what he means and when he jokes you know it clearly. The man is absolutely straight. He fears God; he means it his marriage vows; when he makes an appointment to meet me he shows up on time or if something delays him he calls. He rarely uses four letter words and those only show up when he at the end of a Legislative Session and pressured half out of his mind.

I have dined with his him hundreds of time, gone shooting with him frequently at Goose Bay (He’'s a good shot.) I met and worked with his parents and nephew, Aaron. I have debated political and religious philosophy with him at length. At all times he is good humored. He is a very large man about 6’' 7"”, 265. I’'ve seen him work an electrical problem at my home for hours until he figured out exactly what was wrong and fixed the problem. He acquired much of his political and ethical philosophy from his father who was a contractor ,constantly bothered by state inspectors and crooked people who were trying to weasel more out of his father than they deserved. Through his father’'s stable and completely honest approach, Vic inherited a strong sense of the importance of keeping his word.

I believe Vic to be completely innocent of the charges. since the charges are laughable. How and why they are laughable will be the subject of future comments. I believe the Feds are railroading him. As each issue is brought forth in this trial I shall comment on what I can, and I hope to say at the end,

“See? I told you so.” And Phil is correct. I love cats and my Main Squeeze. I even like Phil'’s black cat Mooch!


Fred won't be able to attend the first part of the trial, as he may be called as a witness for the defense, and Judge Sedgewick has ruled such potential witnesses are barred from the courtroom until they testify. But he isn't gagged or barred from commenting on whatever he finds out through other means.