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Jury Finds Longtime Alaskan Sen. Ted Stevens Guilty of Corruption

October 27, 2008 at 6:10 PM EDT
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A jury found Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens guilty Monday of lying about free home renovations and other gifts he received from an oil contractor. A Capitol Hill reporter details the court's ruling and how it may impact Stevens' political future.

RAY SUAREZ: We take a closer look at the implications of today’s guilty verdict with Paul Singer, associate editor at the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. He’s been covering the Ted Stevens’ corruption trial.

Paul, let’s begin with what the government said and what the jury has now agreed Ted Stevens did.

PAUL SINGER, Roll Call: Well, the charges, Ray, specifically, were that he failed to report gifts on his annual financial disclosure forms that he reports to Congress every year.

He was receiving, they alleged, major renovations on his home in Girdwood, Alaska, that he was not paying for. He was also receiving a whole bunch of other governments that he never paid for, a very expensive gas grill, a $2,700 electric massage chair.

All of these things, the government alleged, should have been reported as gifts on his financial disclosure forms. By failing to report them, he was essentially hiding things he didn’t want the public to know. This is what the jury has agreed and has convicted him of today.

RAY SUAREZ: They convicted him on all counts. What level of crime is this? Were these felonies?

PAUL SINGER: Yes, well, the form is a Senate form, but it’s actually required by federal law that you fill these forms out and you sign a little thing swearing that everything on here is accurate. And, yes, it’s a felony.

RAY SUAREZ: Did Stevens take the stand in his own defense? And, if so, how did he explain the presence of the renovations, the artwork, the furniture?

PAUL SINGER: He did take the stand. He spent about two days on the stand. And his argument was essentially this, that the family, the Stevens family, did pay about $160,000 for renovations to a bunch of contractors.

And the other things that were being done by his friends and by this oil company that he was very close to he claimed he didn’t know that they were being done.

When he discovered that they were being done, he asked for bills and just never received them. The gifts that came to his home, he claimed he never asked for those gifts. He didn’t want them. He asked people to take them away.

The fact that they never went away was not really his fault, he said. They were — he made it very clear that he wanted them to go away.

The prosecution made the point, Senator, you’re one of the most powerful senators in the U.S. Congress. How can you not get someone to remove a chair from your house, to remove a grill from your house? It seems hard to reconcile.

Corruption, not bribery convictions

Paul Singer
Roll Call
[The prosecution] never alleged any quid pro quo. That would have been a bribery count. And they never alleged that; it was not in the indictment.

RAY SUAREZ: The company involved, VECO, is a construction company in the oil services industry. Did the federal government attempt to show any quid pro quo that something was offered and something given back by Stevens?

PAUL SINGER: You know, it's funny. They didn't, except they sort of did. They never alleged any quid pro quo. That would have been a bribery count. And they never alleged that; it was not in the indictment.

But they did suggest that Stevens had done some favors for VECO and during this time period. It was very unclear exactly, if they weren't going to make that official part of the charges against him, why they would introduce it.

And, essentially, they were introducing it in a way to say these people were very close to Ted Stevens. He was doing nice things for them; they were doing nice things for him.

RAY SUAREZ: We're just about a week away from Election Day, and Senator Stevens is defending his seat. Is there any timetable for announcing a sentence or court reconvening in this case? Or can he go back to Alaska and run?

PAUL SINGER: He can go back to Alaska and run. The judge this afternoon said that he would do sentencing probably after February. They're going to have a scheduling hearing in February.

The theory here is that there are numerous grounds upon which Senator Stevens might want to appeal this verdict. And, meanwhile, he's out on bond, and he can go back to Alaska and run.

RAY SUAREZ: And for the moment he remains a senator in good standing, if a convicted felon?

PAUL SINGER: Yes, he does. There's no direct execution that would throw him out of the Senate simply for being convicted. The Senate Ethics Committee would have to take up some sort of investigation of him and decide whether he should be expelled or some sort of punishment. If he loses his re-election in a week, they probably won't bother.

RAY SUAREZ: When's the last time a sitting United States senator was convicted of a felony?

PAUL SINGER: You know, I don't know that it's ever happened. I know that Senator David Durenberger, about 25 years ago, I believe, was found guilty -- or I believe he might have pled guilty. I don't remember exactly. But he was found guilty of some similar failure to report, and he paid a small fine.

You have to go back a long ways before that before you have anything similar to this.

The senator will fight the ruling

Paul Singer
Roll Call
[Stevens is] going back to Alaska to try and make the case to Alaskans that he was unfairly prosecuted.

RAY SUAREZ: We should keep in mind that Senator Ted Stevens is 84 years old. Do these charges, and now convictions, carry jail time?

PAUL SINGER: Yes. Well, in theory, each charge carries five years possible maximum. But, I mean, you're not going to give Ted Stevens 35 years in jail.

Most folks I've spoken to, most things I've read, the suspicion is that he could get a sentence of up to a year, year-and-a-half. But even that, it's just hard to know whether they'd really put him in jail.

RAY SUAREZ: Had Senator Stevens at any time during this process talked about what he might do if found guilty?

PAUL SINGER: No, you know, he said he's innocent. He said he didn't do it. He said he never intended to do it. And he said he's going to go home to Alaska.

In fact, one of our reporters caught him getting out of the elevator today, and he said, "I'm going home." He's going back to Alaska to try and make the case to Alaskans that he was unfairly prosecuted.

I mean, I will give him credit here that the prosecution did admit on several occasions that they mishandled evidence. That will probably give him an avenue for appeal.

RAY SUAREZ: Paul Singer, thanks for joining us.

PAUL SINGER: Thanks. Have a good evening, Ray.