The Senate Rules Committee rejected today the recommendation of former Watergate committee counsel Sam Dash, hired to oversee impeachment proceedings against Democratic Gov. William Sheffield, that the inquiry be limited to whether Sheffield lied to a grand jury.
"It's too early to narrow the scope to such a narrow, narrow path," said state Sen. Jan Faiks. He and three other Republicans, voting against the committee's only Democrat, said the Senate must consider the substance of the grand jury probe: the award of a $9.1 million state contract to one of Sheffield's political and financial supporters.
As the hearing opened Monday, Dash cited "ample evidence" that Sheffield tampered with state leasing procedures when the noncompetitive contract for state office space was awarded to a firm partly owned by labor leader Lenny Arsenault, who helped raise $92,000 for Sheffield's 1982 campaign. While the governor's involvement did not amount to an impeachable offense, Dash said, perjury would.
The Rules Committee voted today to define an impeachable offense as serious misconduct in office, such as treason, malfeasance, misfeasance, corruption or perjury.
Sheffield's former chief of staff told the panel today that he thought the governor had blundered in supplying Arsenault with inside information during negotiations for the lucrative lease.
John Shively, who resigned from Sheffield's staff this month after his grand jury testimony led to the impeachment proceedings, told committee members, "I just thought it was one of those things that would not look very good for the governor" even though it was legal.
Dash said Shively had told the grand jury in detail about an October 1984 meeting in which Sheffield and Arsenault discussed altering the contract specifications to rule out competitors.
Dash said Sheffield testified four times that he could not recall the discussion. The grand jury returned no indictments but issued a report July 2 criticizing the governor's "lack of candor" and calling him "unfit to fulfill the inherent duties of his office."
The lease was voided this month at the recommendation of the state attorney general.
The grand jury produced no evidence that Sheffield ordered the lease to be given to Arsenault's company, Dash said. But he urged senators to consider that Shively told the grand jury he had thrown away file documents and initially lied to investigators to protect the governor. "What protection did the governor need if he wasn't doing anything wrong?" Dash asked.
Philip Lacovara, Sheffield's lawyer and a Watergate prosecutor in 1974, argued that the governor did not lie when he testified that he could not recall details. Sheffield had no motive to feign forgetfulness because he knew that other witnesses were telling the grand jury about the details, Lacovara said.
Defense lawyer John Conway said Sheffield did not deny taking an interest in the lease negotiations or discussing the proposal with Arsenault at other times. The project to consolidate state office space in Fairbanks, he said, "was only one of hundreds of issues before the governor during the relevant period and by no means one of the most important ones. It would be unfair and unrealistic to infer perjury from the failure to recall certain highly specific events."
If at least 14 of the 20 senators approve articles of impeachment, a trial will be conducted in the 40-member state House.