The goofiest of the impeachment charges was that Governor Mecham had obstructed justice in an investigation of a death threat. I was in the the governor’s office when this death threat was supposed to have occurred and I didn’t hear it. I can guarantee that if I had heard such a threat, I would have immediately begun making suggestions to the governor on how to avoid another crisis. The fact that no arrest was ever made, let alone a conviction, is proof enough that no death threat was ever made.
– Ken Smith
March 8, 1988
Arizona’s top police official testified at the impeachment trial of Gov. Evan Mecham today that he realized almost immediately that Mecham had committed a crime in ordering him not to cooperate in an investigation of a purported death threat.
“I was in shock over what he was saying, taken aback, speechless,” said Col. Ralph Milstead, director of the state Department of Public Safety.
Milstead quoted Mecham as telling him: “I don’t want you to help the Attorney General hang me. Don’t tell him anything.”
Milstead said he had phoned the Governor Nov. 15 to discuss a report that Lee Watkins, then a Mecham Administration official, had threatened to send a former Mecham aide on “a long boat ride” if she did not stop testifying before a grand jury investigating Mecham campaign finances.
Watkins has denied threatening the aide, Donna Carlson.
Milstead said he disregarded the Governor’s request and did cooperate with the Attorney General.
Milstead, whose testimony is crucial to the obstruction-of-justice charge against the Governor, was cross-examined by Mecham’s attorney, Fred Craft.
Craft asked Milstead why, in his report on his exchange with the Governor, he quoted the Governor’s words but not his own part of the conversation.
“Because I’m not committing a crime,” said Milstead. “I’m not obstructing justice.”
“When did you conclude that the Governor’s words constituted a crime?” asked Craft.
“As I’m hearing them and reflecting on them,” said Milstead, adding it took him “about two seconds” after hanging up the phone.
Craft asked the witness why he did not write down his conclusion that a crime had been committed.
“I didn’t think it was necessary,” the colonel said. “Anyone with a legal background could read it and see this was an obstruction of an investigation.”
Milstead, the seventh witness, took the stand at the start of the second week of testimony.
Mecham, a first-term Republican, is accused in the impeachment proceedings of obstructing the Attorney General’s investigation of the purported death threat through his orders to Milstead.
Mecham told a House impeachment committee in January that he may have told Milstead not to cooperate with the investigation.
However, Mecham contended he had not been fully informed about the seriousness of the situation.
The Governor also is accused in 23 articles of impeachment of concealing a $350,000 campaign loan and misusing $80,000 in a state fund by loaning it to his auto dealership. He faces a recall election May 17 and a criminal trial March 22 on felony charges accusing him of concealing the $350,000 loan.
Milstead described an angry, fearful Mecham trying to minimize the purported threat. “He said this was a family spat and there’s nothing to it,” the witness testified.
Milstead said he had called the Governor as a courtesy to tell him he was going to the Attorney General.
Earlier today, Attorney General Robert Corbin advised the Senate not to grant immunity to Watkins, who invoked Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination Friday and refused to testify.