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House Impeachment Hearings Begin

January 21, 1988

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) _ Gov. Evan Mecham tried to thwart a investigation of an alleged death threat against a former top aide, a House committee was told Wednesday as it opened hearings on whether Mecham should be impeached.

Ralph Milstead, director of the state Department of Public Safety, testified that the first-term Republican governor told him in November: ″Don’t tell the attorney general anything″ about the alleged threat against Donna Carlson.

Ms. Carlson, a former top Mecham aide, was a witness at the time in a grand jury investigation into an unreported $350,000 loan to Mecham’s campaign.

Milstead quoted the governor as saying, ″The attorney general is out to hang me and I’m not going to help him in any way. I don’t want you to help him get me.″

Mecham, who is virtually certain to face a recall election in May, is to be arraigned Friday on six felony counts of fraud, perjury and filing false documents in connection with his failure to report the $350,000 loan.

On Wednesday, Mecham strongly denied any wrongdoing and charged in an interview with KTSP-TV that House special counsel William French ″is trying to hang me. French is reaching so far. He’s a desperate man.″

The House select committee is considering whether Mecham should be formally accused of obstructing justice. The governor also has been accused by French of concealing the $350,000 loan and of borrowing $80,000 in state money.

Committee Chairman Jim Skelly said the panel had decided to expand its hearings to consider whether Mecham improperly interfered in the hiring of a lobbyist for Arizona’s bid for the federal superconducting super collider.

Speaking to a group of senior citizens in Sun City on Wednesday morning, Mecham said the campaign loan was ″perfectly above-board″ and that ″indictments are only an accusation and they’re easy to get when you’ve got a prosecutor who’s determined to get one.″

″Friends, I don’t know of any law I’ve broken,″ Mecham said.

Mecham later told KTSP: ″Nobody told me that there was any death threat or that there was an investigation.″

Skelly said he expected the select committee’s hearings to continue into next week. Another committee member, Debbie McCune, said there appeared to be an ″unspoken deadline″ that House members want to decide on whether to impeach Mecham by the end of next week.

The death threat was allegedly made by Lee Watkins, a Mecham administration official and campaign backer. Watkins has denied making a threat.

In a signed statement, Milstead has said that when he told the governor that statt Attorney General Bob Corbin’s office had sought department cooperation in investigating the matter, Mecham said, ″Don’t tell the attorney general anything.″

A majority of the 60-member House is needed to impeach the governor, while a Senate trial would require two-thirds of the 30 votes to convict him. The Arizona constitution requires Secretary of State Rose Mofford, a Democrat, to take over as acting governor during any Senate trial, although Mecham and his lawyer have indicated they may challenge that provision.

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