Mecham says officials plotting against him

March 18, 1988

By LINDA DEUTSCH
Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) — Gov. Evan Mecham, facing senators’ hostile questions at his impeachment trial, said Friday he believes the state’s top lawman is guilty of leading a mutiny against him.

Mecham, winding up his testimony on the first of three Senate charges against him, said he wishes he had fired Department of Public Safety Director Ralph Milstead, who has accused Mecham of obstructing justice.

“I wish I had done that because we wouldn’t be sitting in this body today,” he said. “I have highly repented that.”

“Do you feel Director Milstead is guilty of mutinous service, yes or no?” asked Sen. Tony West, a Republican like Mecham.

“Yes, I do, sir,” said Mecham who had previously hedged on answering the question.

West noted that in the military, mutiny is punishable by death.

“I wouldn’t propose we take Director Milstead out and shoot him,” said the governor. “I would protect him against that.”

But Mecham angrily blamed Milstead and others for his current predicament.

Pressed on why he didn’t fire Milstead, he said, “I had a war going on with the attorney general and I didn’t need any others.” Milstead had been appointed by Mecham’s Democratic predecessor, Bruce Babbitt, and under state law could be removed by Mecham only for good cause.

Later in the afternoon, Mecham left the witness stand after withdrawing an accusation against the former chief of his DPS security detail.

Pressed by senators, he admitted he had no proof that Lt. Beau Johnson stole from his desk a report critical of DPS operations. Mecham had suggested Johnson delivered it to DPS officials who leaked it to the news media.

“I’m not accusing him. I didn’t mean to accuse him,” Mecham said.

Milstead, who is out of the country, previously testified that Mecham told him not to cooperate with Attorney General Bob Corbin’s investigation of an alleged death threat against former Mecham aide Donna Carlson. She was a grand jury witness in an investigation of Mecham’s campaign finances.

Mecham acknowledged some details of his conversation with Milstead but said he still thinks the death threat allegation was “a bunch of hot air.” He also said, “We have really worked to make a mountain out of molehill.”

The obstruction claim is the first of three charges against Mecham being considered by the Senate. Mecham is was expected to return later in the trial to discuss the other charges, of concealing a $350,000 campaign loan and misusing $80,000 in state money by loaning it to his auto dealership.

It would take a two-thirds vote of the 30-member Senate to convict Mecham and remove him from office. The Senate could then take another vote and forbid him from ever holding state office again.

Mecham also faces a criminal trial April 21 on the charge that he concealed the $350,000 loan and a recall election May 17.

The 63-year-old first-term governor, who had a jaunty demeanor in his first two days on the stand, appeared weary and defensive as his third day of questioning ground on.

“You have missed the total point 3/8″ he snapped at one senator.

When another senator accused Mecham of keeping an enemies’ list, the governor shot back, “I don’t need a list.”

Mecham lashed out at those who had testified against him. In addition to the accusation against Johnson, Mecham accused Milstead of misusing state vehicles and office help and of living out of wedlock with a woman, “which is against the law in Arizona.” Mecham also said Ms. Carlson took things from his desk.

He said he was not paranoid but “realistic” in believing that Corbin, also a Republican, was trying to mortally wound him politically. He also accused newspapers and “others who hold high positions” of working against him.

Corbin, contacted later, said he had no comment.

When questioned about the alleged death threat on Ms. Carlson, the governor continued to plead ignorance of the details. “I knew nothing of a death threat. I knew nothing of a serious nature,” he said.

Democratic Sen. Carolyn Walker pressed Mecham on his state of mind on Nov. 15, when he told Milstead he should not cooperate with the attorney general’s probe.

“Is it fair to say you put your political career ahead of the good of the people of Arizona?” the senator asked.

“Certainly not,” said Mecham.