Mecham lawyer testifies during impeachment trial

March 21, 1988

By LINDA DEUTSCH
Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. —  Gov. Evan Mecham’s lawyer, in an abrupt role change, became a witness in his client’s impeachment trial Monday, saying the only political option advisers offered the governor was “to go down with the ship.”

Fred Craft, who was subpoenaed by the Senate on a motion by Democratic minority leader Sen. Alan Stephens, made the comment during cross-examination by prosecutor Paul Eckstein.

Craft and his co-counsel, Jerris Leonard, objected to the cross- examination, saying that only senators were supposed to question a lawyer called as a witness under such unusual circumstances. The presiding officer disagreed.

Eckstein asked whether Craft ever advised Mecham to resign.

“I’ve talked to the governoer a lot,” said Craft. “Sometimes I’ve said, ‘Governor, why are you doiing this to yourself?”‘

Without answering directly, he recalled Mecham advisers brainstorming about the governor’s political options.

“We had these meetings and no one could see a political escape route for the governor,” Craft said. “No one was offering the governor any other political option than to go down with the ship.”

Craft, now one of Mecham’s lawyers in the impeachment case, was a Washington lobbyist for Mecham and an adviser to the first-term Republican.

The Senate, which began its fourth week of inquiry into the governor’s actions Monday, has been hearing testimony on an allegation that Mecham tried to obstruct justice by thwarting an attorney general’s probe of the alleged death threat against former Mecham aide Donna Carlson.

The obstruction of justice charge is one of three broad allegations against Mecham at the trial. He also is charged with concealing a $350,000 campaign loan and with misusing $80,000 from a state fund by loaning it to his auto dealership.

Earlier, Craft corroborated Mecham’s assertions that he was not informed that a death threat had been made against a former aide.

Craft testified he stood next to Mecham when a state police officer first reported the alleged threat. Craft said it was reported as “an altercation between two employees.”

“I never heard ‘felony.’ I never heard ‘death threat’ and I certainly never heard ‘tampering with a grand jury witness,”‘ Craft said in an almost exact duplicate of Mecham’s own testimony last week.

At the time of the alleged threat last November, Ms. Carlson was preparing to testify before a grand jury investigating Mecham’s campaign finances.

Like Mecham, Craft accused Lt. Beau Johnson of the Department of Public Safety of testifying falsely when he said he alerted Mecham to a possible felony — tampering with a grand jury witness.

Craft swore Johnson never gave that warning.

“I don’t remember so much what he said as what he did not say because I’m a trained lawyer …,” said Craft. “If he had said those words, my antennae would have gone up.’

Johnson has said he went to Mecham and told him that a Mecham aide, Lee Watkins, had threatened Mrs. Carlson and that a possible felony was involved. Mecham has denied this version, saying he understood two employees had a disagreement and that he referred it to Watkins’ superior, Max Hawkins.

Senators supported Stephens’ motion to have Craft testify because he was mentioned by other witnesses as participating in key conversations. Craft said he did not give the governor legal advice during that period and acknowledged he could not claim an attorney-client privilege of confidentiality.

Craft took the stand after Peggy Griffith, he official who reported hearing the alleged threat against Ms. Carlson, said she was told Mecham blamed her for getting him “in hot water.”

Mrs. Griffith, returning to testify as a prosecution rebuttal witness, said she was told by her secretary, Terri Fields, that the governor and his then- lawyer, Murray Miller, were mad at Mrs. Griffith.

“She came in and was very tearful and agitated,” Mrs. Griffith said of Ms. Fields. “She said,’I can’t stand it anymore. I’m going to quit. They’re hounding me. The governor and Murray Miller … they said it’s all your fault, Peggy. They said if you had not told, the governor would not be in hot water and it’s all your fault.”‘

Mrs. Griffith, a strong Mecham supporter, said that was “a gut blow.”

It would take a two-thirds vote of the 30 senators to convict Mecham. They could then take another vote and forbid Mecham to ever hold state office again.

Mecham, the first U.S. governor to be impeached in 60 years, also faces an April 21 criminal trial on felony charges of concealing the $350,000 loan and a recall election May 17.

Mecham, who Friday completed three days of testimony, was absent from the trial Monday.