Can Stevens Survive the Guilty Verdict?
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) was convicted Monday of all seven counts related to lying on his federal disclosure forms. The verdict threatens to topple the storied and controversial career of the longest serving Republican in Senate history.
Stevens issued a statement after the verdict vowing to continue his reelection bid. “I am innocent,” Stevens said. “This verdict is the result of the unconscionable manner in which the Justice Dept. 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.”
Federal jurors found Stevens guilty on all seven counts related to his failure to disclose roughly $250,000 in gifts, including furniture, a high-end gas grill and extensive renovations on his home in , Alaska.
Most of those gifts came courtesy of Corp., an oil services firm formerly headed by one-time Stevens’ friend Bill Allen. During the trial, Allen gave damning testimony for the prosecution in exchange for assurances that his children wouldn’t be charged in the scandal — part of a four-year-long federal investigation into wide-ranging political corruption in Alaska.
Stevens’ lawyers have vowed to appeal, but that won’t help him in his reelection contest next week. The seven-term senator has been in a tough race against Mark , the popular Democratic mayor of Anchorage. office issued a bland, one-sentence statement today, alluding to the resilience of Alaskans during “a difficult time.” The statement itself did not include any mention of Stevens.
The federal court decision might also be unwelcome for the GOP presidential ticket, for it allows Democrats to highlight Stevens’ ties to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who famously supported the controversial “bridge to nowhere” project pushed hard by Stevens.
The verdict came despite a series of missteps made by federal prosecutors, including a revelation earlier Monday that there was an error in the indictment — something prosecutors called a typo. Jurors also seemed to dismiss several high-powered character witnesses — including Sen. Daniel (D-Hawaii) and former Sec. of State Colin L. Powell — who have testified on Stevens’ behalf.
The decision threatens the career of an 84-year-old lawmaker who is regarded by many as an Alaska institution. Stevens was active in state politics before Alaska become a state, and was widely successful in bringing home federal dollars in the form of pet projects, called earmarks.
His prolific earmarking earned him popularity within the state, but also made him a common target of government reform groups. Stephen Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group, shot out statement following Monday’s verdict indicating that Stevens has secured $3.5 billion in earmarks for Alaska in the past five years alone.
“Sen. Stevens is in the pantheon of ,” Ellis wrote, not .
The conviction is almost unprecedented in annals of congressional history. Julian E. , a congressional historian at Princeton University, pointed to several other cases in which sitting senators have been convicted of crimes and kept their seats. Following the infamous Chappaquiddick episode, for example, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident that left his passenger dead. The district attorney declined to file manslaughter charges, and Kennedy survived the political backlash.
More recently, Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) was arrested for lewd conduct for allegedly soliciting sex in the men’s bathroom at a Minneapolis airport. In August 2007, Craig pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct. Craig said initially that he would resign as a result of the episode, but later retracted that. He is retiring at the end of this year.
said the seriousness of the charges will likely be the end of Stevens’ long run in the Senate. “It’s hard to imagine that, A, he wins, or B, the Senate would want him back if he does,” said. “It seems to be the end of his career, at least in the Senate.”