Sen. Stevens’ political career cloudy after conviction on corruption charges
Posted: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 8:34 pm
WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Ted Stevens gambled by asking for a speedy trial, betting a high-powered defense team, some sterling character witnesses and his unblemished record as Alaska’s political patriarch would get him a pre-election acquittal on corruption charges.
He lost, with a jury on Monday finding him guilty on seven counts of trying to hide more than $250,000 in free home renovations and other gifts from a wealthy oil contractor.
Stevens, who first entered the Senate in 1968, now faces Alaska’s voters next week as a convicted felon — increasing the difficulty in a tough race against Democratic challenger Mark Begich. But the famously stubborn Stevens is not giving up, asking supporters in Alaska and the Senate to stand by him as he appeals his conviction.
“I will fight this unjust verdict with every ounce of energy I have,” the 84-year-old World War II veteran said.
Stevens faces a maximum 35 years in prison, although he is likely to get far less, if any, prison time. If re-elected, he also could face an expulsion vote in the Senate, although senators also can recommend a lesser sanction.
The Bush White House issued a statement Tuesday saying: “Sen. Stevens has said that he’s going to fight his conviction and that he is going to appeal, and that is his right to do. Since it’s going to be a matter of ongoing litigation, we’ll decline to comment for now.”
Earlier, Republican presidential candidate John McCain called for Stevens to step down, saying the longtime Republican “has broken his trust with the people.”
“It is clear that Sen. Stevens has broken his trust with the people and that he should now step down,” McCain said. “I hope that my colleagues in the Senate will be spurred by these events to redouble their efforts to end this kind of corruption once and for all.”
Stevens is a legendary figure in Alaska, where he has wielded political influence since before statehood. His knack for steering billions of dollars in federal money to his home state has drawn praise from his constituents and consternation from budget hawks.
Stevens proclaimed his innocence throughout the trial and pushed U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan to bring the case before a jury within two months, extremely fast for a case of such magnitude. Hiring noted defense lawyer Brendan Sullivan and getting august personalities such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii to testify for him, Stevens hoped to get a pre-Election Day verdict from the eight women and four men on the jury.
Things started going downhill, however, after Stevens gave a combative performance on the witness stand.
He stuttered and looked uncomfortable answering several questions and would shoot back at prosecutor Brenda Morris with answers such as “You’re not listening to me; I’ve answered it twice,” “You’re making a lot of assumptions that are unwarranted” and “That question is tautological.”
Jurors, after listening to a monthlong trial, complained of stress and violent outbursts in the jury room after starting to deliberate Wednesday. They tried to kick one of their own off the panel. They twice asked to go home early and then lost a juror after her father died and were ordered by the judge to restart their deliberations.
It only took them about five hours to come to a decision Monday.
The Alaska Democratic Party called on Stevens to immediately resign. But Begich said only that Alaskans “are strong and resilient, and I believe that we will be able to move forward together to address the critical challenges that face Alaska.”
Gov. Sarah Palin, the GOP’s vice presidential candidate, did not call on Stevens to resign, saying only, “I’m confident Senator Stevens will do what’s right for the people of Alaska.”
It would be a mistake to write Stevens’ political obituary with the election still a week away, said Carl Shepro, a professor of political science at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. Many Alaskans believe Stevens is being unjustly attacked, he said.
“It’s very possible that he’s going to win the election,” Shepro said.