Corruption charges were national spectacle but lack lasting affect

Just when I think the curtain has fallen for the “Corrupt Bastard’s Club,” it appears the final act has only just begun for the oh-so-accurately self-described group of oil-influenced Alaskan politicians.

Apparently emboldened by the overturned verdict in former Sen. Ted Stevens’ corruption trial, everyone involved now wants a piece of this vindication pie – and the line begins with former Rep. Pete Kott.

If the allegations of Kott’s lawyer are to be believed, prosecutors failed to provide the defense with information that could have helped Kott – such as star witness Bill Allen’s shifting testimony. According to Kott’s lawyer, Allen’s changing story could have been interpreted as FBI coercion, but the conflicting versions of his statements were not provided to the defense, as required.

Here’s my problem with this, besides the fact that this is only still an issue because Kott is a former state representative with political ties and money, Bill Allen has been shady since day one. How is one unreported incidence of Bill Allen changing his testimony suddenly news? If I remember correctly, it seems like there wasn’t a single day of the trial when Allen didn’t blatantly contradict his own or others’ testimony.

In fact, even if Allen wasn’t quite drunk during most of the period in question, he suffered a brain injury in 2001. If that doesn’t make him unreliable enough, add to it the fact that every word he said was part of a plea bargain attempt to keep himself out of jail. My point, however, is that his testimony is no less reliable now than it was when they accepted it.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Allen lied – or at least never went too far afield when he did. Also, I don’t hold it against him. I’m glad that Allen sold the rest of his conspirators out. Just don’t count me among the surprised when these guys now begin slipping their convictions like Houdini from a cheap straightjacket. After all, political convictions were made to be overturned, right?

This isn’t the regular world of criminal justice, where ­– as the saying goes – you do the crime, you do the time. In the world of politics, trials are commenced and convictions are made as political statements. In other words, a criminal trial against a politician is the equivalent of a good, stern finger-wagging. Most politicians serve brief sentences and are either acquitted or released early after serving only a short term outside the general prison population.

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My point here is that these big productions are less than effective. They’re placating, and mildly symbolic, but that’s about it. So Sarah Palin liked to claim that she presided over the “cleaning up” of Alaska politics, but what did it all really boil down to? The CBC trials have racked up huge expenditures by the state and federal government in legal fees and man hours, only to now spend more on appeals and re-trials.

Meanwhile, Kott and former Rep. Vic Kohring, who was also convicted in his corruption trial, have been released pending further hearings.

What is most disturbing about this entire situation is that it isn’t even a question of guilt, as far as I can tell. In a reaction against a political environment where one hand washes the other, using hours of video and audio recordings as evidence, Kohring and Kott were proven guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt by a jury of their peers.

It’s not a question of guilt, but one of procedure which has lead to their release, and may yet lead to their acquittal.

The corruption trials were national news, but now that they have faded from the spotlight, will anyone really notice if all the convictions are now overturned or re-tried? It’s precisely these kinds of over-priced and ineffective gestures that give politics a bad name.

Well, that and special interests. And favoritism. And the actual corruption itself, which spawns the investigation and public outrage in the first place.

Okay, well, I guess it’s just politics that give politics a bad name. Free Kott, or not. I think I see a bit of deus ex machina looming at the end of this play.