A two-year-old letter by Vice President Dick Cheney that pushed a controversial Alaska natural-gas pipeline bill is getting renewed scrutiny because of recently disclosed evidence in the Justice Department's corruption case against Sen. Ted Stevens. In a conversation secretly tape-recorded by the FBI on June 25, 2006, Stevens discussed ways to get a pipeline bill through the Alaska Legislature with Bill Allen, an oil-services executive accused of providing the senator with about $250,000 in undisclosed financial benefits. According to a Justice motion, Stevens told Allen, "I'm gonna try to see if I can get some bigwigs from back here and say, 'Look … you gotta get this done'." Two days later, Cheney wrote a letter to the Alaska Legislature urging members to "promptly enact" a bill to build the pipeline. The letter was considered unusual because the White House rarely contacts state lawmakers about pending legislative matters. It also angered state Democrats, who accused Cheney of pushing oil-company interests. The former executive director of Cheney's energy task force had gone to work as a lobbyist for British Petroleum, one of three firms slated to build the pipeline.
Stevens confirmed to NEWSWEEK last week that he asked Cheney to write the letter. "We wanted the federal government to tell the state to act quickly on it," he said. (A spokesman for Alaska's other senator, Lisa Murkowski, said her office also had contacts with Cheney's office.) A Cheney spokeswoman said his office does not comment on pending legal matters.
In the motion, prosecutors said they want to show that Stevens, who has pleaded not guilty, used his political clout to benefit Allen's business interests while the oil exec was paying for renovations on the senator's home. As an example, the motion points out that Stevens discussed contacting the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about the pipeline; soon after, FERC issued a report on the project "similar to the message delivered by Stevens." But the Justice motion made no mention of Cheney's letter. A department spokesman did not respond to requests for comment about why prosecutors did not also include the letter or whether they expect Cheney to come up at Stevens's trial, now slated to begin next month.