Justice Department Indicts Alaska Sen. Stevens
The Justice Department on Tuesday indicted Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in Senate history, on seven counts of not properly disclosing "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in improvements to his Alaska home.
Federal prosecutors said that Stevens failed to disclose more than $250,000 worth of gifts he received between 1999 and 2007 from VECO Corp., an Alaska-based oil pipeline and services company, and its founder, Bill Allen. The indictment follows a two-year investigation of Stevens; in July 2007, federal agents searched the senator's home in Girdwood, Alaska.
Stevens issued a statement in response to the indictment. "It saddens me to learn that these charges have been brought against me," the statement read in part. "I have never knowingly submitted a false disclosure form required by law as a U.S. senator."
"I am innocent of these charges and intend to prove that," he said.
In accordance with Republican bylaws, Stevens also stepped down from his role as the ranking Republican on two Senate panels, including the powerful Commerce Committee.
Reaction on Capitol Hill was swift. "I was shocked to learn of today's announcement," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) told The Associated Press. "I know Ted Stevens to be an honorable, hard-working Alaskan who has served our state well for as long as we have been a state. As to the charges, we are at the beginning of the criminal process, and there is a judicial procedure in place that will be followed."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told the AP, "I have served with Sen. Stevens my entire congressional career. It's a sad day for him, us, but you know, I believe in the American system of justice, and he's presumed innocent."
According to the indictment, Stevens allegedly received gifts from VECO and Allen that included improvements to his vacation home in Alaska — a new first floor, garage, wraparound deck, plumbing, electrical wiring and furniture. Prosecutors said Stevens concealed "his continuing receipt of hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of things of value" from the company.
In turn, Allen and other VECO officials called on Stevens for "multiple official actions ... knowing that Stevens could and did use his official position and his office on behalf of VECO during that same time period," according to the indictment. However, a Justice Department official said the indictment does not allege any quid pro quo.
Filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, the indictment does detail some actions that Stevens allegedly took on VECO's behalf, including requesting federal grants from several agencies and funding and other aid for the oil services company's projects and partnerships in Pakistan and Russia.
Stevens, 84, has served as a senator since 1968. After two unsuccessful tries for the job — in the 1962 general election and in the 1968 GOP primary — he was appointed to the Senate in 1968, following the death of a Democratic incumbent. He won a short-term special election in 1970 and has easily won re-election ever since. No Democrat has won a Senate seat in Alaska since 1974.
Richard Mauer, staff writer at the Anchorage Daily News, told NPR that it is hard to miss Stevens' legacy in Alaska. The senator was named Alaskan of the Century in 2000. The airport in Anchorage is named for him, as are other institutions across the state.
Mauer noted, however, that public opinion may be changing. "There's a recent poll," he said, "that showed enormous negatives by independent voters and Alaskans in general toward Sen. Stevens."
Stevens is facing a tough re-election challenge this year against Democrat Mark Begich, the mayor of Anchorage, but NPR's Martin Kaste tells Michele Norris it might be premature to write off the veteran lawmaker.
Prior to Tuesday's indictment, "I think most Alaskans would have predicted that he still would have won pretty easily, or at least won with some confidence this year, despite the fact that he's been under a cloud," Kaste said. "The fact that he's now been indicted may change things, but he is still Ted Stevens."
At the White House, press secretary Dana Perino told the AP, "The president has been working with Sen. Stevens for many years, and he appreciates his strong leadership on key issues. This is a legal matter that the Department of Justice is handling, and so we will not comment further on it."
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