The race for Alaska's U.S. Senate seat may have just been decided in a Washington D.C. courtroom. On October 27th, 2008, a jury has found Senator Stevens guilty of all seven counts of lying on his financial disclosure forms. It is the highest-profile felony conviction in a sweeping four-year federal investigation into corruption in Alaska politics, and a rare conviction by a jury of a sitting U.S. senator. Primary media stories published by the Anchorage Daily News, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, and KTUU Channel 2. National stories from CNN and McClatchyDC.
Additional media stories developing. Here are links to just a few:
- Alaska Politics blog: Democrats call for Stevens to step down
- Anchorage Daily News: The Verdict; count-by-count
- Anchorage Daily News: Senate would decide Stevens' ultimate fate
- Anchorage Daily News: Timeline; Life of Ted Stevens
- Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Alaska Sen. Stevens' conviction tarnishes a storied career
- Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Jury in Stevens case endured drama, disappearing act on way to verdict
- Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Reaction to Stevens conviction
KTUU news video embedded below:
As the verdict on the first count was read, Stevens slumped slightly. When the second count was read, his lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, reached over and put his arm around Stevens' shoulders. But while Stevens and his lawyers exited the courthouse without making a statement, his wife Catherine said it's not over yet. Unofficial word is that the defense team may push for a new trial.
Jurors found that Stevens willfully filed false financial disclosure forms that hid such gifts as the renovations that doubled his home in size. Those gifts, valued at as much as $250,000 over seven years, came mostly from his former friend Bill Allen, the star prosecution witness in Stevens' trial and the former owner of Veco Corp. The News-Miner has thoughtfully assembled a summary of each of the seven charges, which I reproduce below:
COUNT ONE: False Statements, Scheme. ACCUSATION: Stevens engaged in a scheme to conceal from his Senate financial disclosure documents home renovations and other gifts he received from Allen and VECO from 2000-2006. Stevens contends he never asked for any freebies and believed he paid for everything he received. VERDICT: Guilty
COUNT TWO: False Statements. ACCUSATION: Stevens knowingly made false, fictitious or fraudulent statements on his 2001 Senate financial disclosure form regarding gifts from Allen and others. That year, VECO employees renovated Stevens' mountain cabin, building a new first floor and installing a new electrical system. Allen also filled Stevens' house with furniture, left a tool box in his garage and installed a grill on the porch. Stevens also received from another friend an expensive massage chair, which Stevens said was a loan, and a custom work of stained glass, which Stevens said his wife arranged and he knew nothing about. VERDICT: Guilty
COUNT THREE: False Statements. ACCUSATION: Stevens knowingly made false, fictitious or fraudulent statements on his 2002 Senate financial disclosure form regarding gifts from Allen and others. That year, VECO employees installed a new roof, wraparound deck and rope lighting system on Stevens' home. An expensive fish statue, donated to his foundation by an Alaska nonprofit group, was also charged as a gift because it ended up on Stevens' front porch. VERDICT: Guilty
COUNT FOUR: False Statements. ACCUSATION: Stevens knowingly made false, fictitious or fraudulent statements on his 2003 Senate financial disclosure form regarding gifts from Allen and others. That year, Stevens received an Alaskan sled dog puppy from a friend who paid $1,000 for it at a charity auction. Stevens reported the gift's value as $250 and wrote that it was from a charity in honor of his public service. VERDICT: Guilty
COUNT FIVE: False Statements. ACCUSATION: Stevens knowingly made false, fictitious or fraudulent statements on his 2004 Senate financial disclosure form regarding gifts from Allen and others. That year, VECO employees installed or repaired kitchen appliances and performed maintenance on a rooftop snow-melt system at Stevens' house. VERDICT: Guilty
COUNT SIX: False Statements. ACCUSATION: Stevens knowingly made false, fictitious or fraudulent statements on his 2005 Senate financial disclosure form regarding gifts from Allen and others. That year, VECO employees performed roof and gutter repairs and electrical wiring. VERDICT: Guilty
COUNT SEVEN: False Statements. ACCUSATION: Stevens knowingly made false, fictitious or fraudulent statements on his 2006 Senate financial disclosure form regarding gifts from Allen and others. That year, a VECO employee and an outside contractor performed work on the boiler at Stevens' house. VECO's costs were never paid and Allen paid the outside contractor's labor. Stevens says he asked to be billed and didn't consider it a gift. VERDICT: Guilty
The 84-year-old Stevens faces up to five years in prison on each count when he is sentenced January 26th, but under federal sentencing guidelines, he is likely to receive much less prison time, if any.
Jurors returned the verdict just before 4 P.M. Eastern time (noon in Alaska). A statement from the federal court system shortly after the verdicts were delivered said jurors would have no immediate comment.
Now, voters will decide whether Stevens, who has represented the state in the U.S. Senate since 1968 and before that helped usher in statehood for Alaska, should continue to serve in the Senate. For the first time in his career, Stevens faces a competitive re-election fight against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat. In addition, the Alaskan Independence Party is running Bob Bird in the race, and his campaign has been gaining traction. The guilty verdict will complicate not only Stevens' re-election bid, but also the remainder of his term in the Senate. His colleagues have the option of voting to expel him before his term ends in January. Four U.S. senators have been convicted of crimes, historians note, but not one has ever received a presidential pardon. An NPR article offers some more "what-if" analysis on what might happen if Senator Stevens is re-elected.
The corruption trial, which began September 22nd, featured 24 government witnesses and 28 defense witnesses, including character witnesses such as Colin Powell and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Stevens himself took the stand in his own defense, a tactic that appeared to hurt him after he was painted by prosecutors as a disagreeable and mean-spirited man who considered himself above the law. The senator's defense rested on the theory that he and his wife, Catherine, had paid all the bills they received in connection with the renovations of their home in Girdwood.
Catherine Stevens, too, took the stand, providing contradictory testimony that may have persuaded jurors that their conflicting stories meant they were lying or covering up a crime. Jurors had to weigh the husband-and-wife testimony against that of Allen, who pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers in Alaska in an unrelated case. Allen agreed to testify in Stevens' trial and two others in exchange for leniency in his own sentencing and the promise that prosecutors wouldn't charge his children in the corruption investigation.
Alaskan reaction is slowly trickling out. The Alaska Democratic Party has officially called on Senator Stevens to resign his seat immediately. Mark Begich did not echo the resignation call, but posted the following simple statement on his campaign blog: “This past year has been a difficult time for Alaskans, but our people are strong and resilient and I believe that we will be able to move forward together to address the critical challenges that face Alaska. Don Young reported that he was disappointed, that Stevens didn't get tried by a jury of his peers, and believes Stevens can still win in November. Sarah Palin has posted a somewhat supportive statement HERE. And Ted Stevens has just posted the following statement:
"I am obviously disappointed in the verdict but not surprised given the repeated instances of prosecutorial misconduct in this case. The prosecutors had to report themselves to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility during the trial for ethical violations. Exculpatory evidence was hidden from my lawyers. A witness was kept from us and then sent back to Alaska. The Government lawyers allowed evidence to be introduced that they knew was false. I will fight this unjust verdict with every ounce of energy I have.
I am innocent. This verdict is the result of the unconscionable manner in which the Justice Department lawyers conducted this trial. I ask that Alaskans and my Senate colleagues stand with me as I pursue my rights. I remain a candidate for the United States Senate".
General public reaction reflected in comments posted at the various media links above. I will update this post with reaction by other Alaska notables when it is made public.
Analysis: While I am somewhat surprised by the verdict itself, the speed at which it was decided is astonishing. It makes me wonder if the jury made up their mind even before Stevens testified. It's too bad the testimony of a rat like Bill Allen acquired any credibility.
But I do not see how Ted Stevens can win now. How many people can vote for a Senator who has a Federal conviction on his record, even if he appeals? I have stated myself that I'm likely to switch my vote to Bob Bird, although I'll wait for Ted Stevens to react to this verdict and disclose his appellate intentions. This conviction does NOT detract from Stevens' 40 years of dedicated and selfless service to the state.
But ultimately, Begich will win. Off the top of my head, I say that Begich will defeat Stevens by 10 points, and that Bob Bird will get a serious bump, finishing with 10 percent of the vote himself.