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FBI releases Stevens files

From Erika Bolstad in Washington D.C. --

The FBI today released 3,600 pages from its files on former Sen. Ted Stevens, a document dump that sheds little light on how prosecutors pursued their corruption probe against one of Alaska's most prominent figures.

Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history, died in a plane crash in August, at age 86. The documents were released in response to multiple Freedom of Information Act requests.

Most of the material in the 3,600-page file is connected to the “Polar Pen” political corruption investigation conducted by the FBI’s Anchorage office. The wide-ranging investigation, which is still ongoing, was led by the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section. The elite unit secured convictions of three Alaska state legislators, several businessmen and a lobbyist, but then the investigation collapsed under allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in Stevens’ 2008 trial.

But the documents about the corruption investigation reveal little, and are derived mostly from news accounts. The portion of the file about the criminal probe doesn’t include any investigative documents, such as those known as 302s -- notes FBI agents take when they interview people. The bulk of the file is derived from publicly available information, including documents filed in court. Mostly, though, it’s made up of clippings from newspaper, television and investigative websites that followed the corruption probe over the past five years.

If they reveal much, it’s to confirm that federal investigators had indeed cast a wide net in their probe, and that the FBI’s interest dates to February 2006. They gathered news accounts of the business dealings of Steven’ son, Ben Stevens, the pipeline negotiations ongoing in Alaska, fisheries legislation being considered by Congress. They clipped articles about the corruption trials and the key figures in them. They filed articles about ethics, including stories in the Daily News about the effect a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision might have on prosecutors bringing corruption cases against public officials. The file has news clippings dating through November of 2010. It also includes an article about the suicide last year of one of the Justice Department’s public integrity prosecutors in the case.

The FBI also released the older files it has on Stevens, some of which date back to his time as a federal prosecutor in Alaska, pre-statehood. The file include letters from people suggesting the FBI investigate alleged improprieties.

Among those the FBI looked into were allegations in 1991 that an employee of Markair was pressured into contributing $100 to the Stevens re-election campaign, and was told she would be reimbursed by the company for her trouble. The file also includes an allegation by an informant who told federal authorities in 1988 that Stevens paid $350 for an eighth of an ounce of cocaine. Other people wrote to the FBI enclosing newspaper articles about Stevens’ business associations, and suggesting the agency look into them. They included the 2003 allegations that one project involving asbestos removal and a land donation would require Stevens’ backing, and that the business owner was advised that could be had by hiring Stevens’ brother-in-law as a lobbyist.

The file also includes letters from people suggesting Stevens investigate marijuana growers, gambling operations and other crimes -- all of which he forwarded on to authorities. Stevens himself also forwarded on potential avenues of inquiry, including in 1991 sending a letter to the FBI that included a newspaper article in the Juneau Empire about an alleged "anti-Semitic cult" near Ketchikan.

The file pulls back the curtain an another era in Alaska, when Stevens was a young federal prosecutor in Fairbanks. The FBI followed up on a complaint that a federal judge was "publicly intoxicated and associated with a disbarred attorney." Stevens, questioned in the 1955 inquiry, admitted taking the judge to a night club. The judge admitted to drinking in public, but denied being intoxicated "or other misconduct." Stevens told investigators that for one of their nights out, he called up a deputy U.S. marshal so the judge would have an armed escort in a shady part of Fairbanks.

It also includes several references to threats Stevens received on his life, which were sometimes referred to the FBI for investigation. Among them: A 1974 call to the Federal Energy Administration office from someone complaining that he couldn’t get unleaded gasoline in Tok while driving his new Cadillac El Dorado from Detroit to Anchorage. The caller threatened that if he "had a hold of Senator Stevens he would kill the whole bunch."

The release of such information is common after the death of prominent individuals, and the FBI has a number of such files on its websites. Others released recently include those of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and radical historian Howard Zinn.

A Washington, D.C.,-based ethics watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has sought investigative files of one of the figures cleared in the probe: Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska. The Justice Department claims the files are exempt under the Freedom of Information Act, but CREW intends to go to court to ask for their release. Along with Young, CREW is seeking the investigative files of Republican Rep. Jerry Lewis from Redlands, Calif., who was accused of steering earmarks to the clients of a lobbyist friend. It earlier asked the Justice Department for the investigations of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti, who pleaded guilty in September to making hundreds of thousands of dollars of illegal campaign contributions.

We'll continue looking at the files today -- feel free to chime in in the comments if you see something interesting you'd like to bring to our attention. (In fact, the FBI files even include comments from readers of the Anchorage Daily News website; whoever printed them out also printed out the comments, and included them with the original articles.)

© Copyright 2011, The Anchorage Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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