Federal investigators have reportedly taped phone calls between Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and an oil executive who admits bribing elected officials.
The recordings suggest that the FBI has had the Republican senator under surveillance longer than previously suspected as part of a public corruption sting.
Stevens acknowledged in June that he was under scrutiny. It seemed at that time that he was a new focus in the case that had already trapped state legislators.
The FBI wiretapped Alaska politicians suspected of selling their votes to the oil industry.
That's how the agency's investigation snagged former Republican state lawmaker Pete Kott, now on trial.
Kott seemed to put a deal in play with a voicemail for an oil executive: "Uncle Bill," the message starts, "Pete Kott here. Things start tomorrow; just want to get what our instructions are."
"Uncle Bill" is Bill Allen, a former oil executive who founded VECO Corp. and Stevens' political patron. He pleaded guilty to bribery and became the government's star witness. (VECO, a billion-dollar oil services firm, was acquired earlier this month by CH2M HILL.)
Allen testified that he doled money and favors to several Alaska lawmakers, including Stevens, even paying for construction work on Stevens' house.
A federal raid on that house, located in the Anchorage suburb of Girdwood, two months ago made many Alaskans wonder whether the oil company had improperly paid for a remodeling job there. But the trial marked the first time anyone had said so under oath.
Republican Gov. Sarah Palin said she wants to hear from Stevens.
"I am anxious to hear the senator's explanation — and I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt that that explanation will be coming," the governor said.
Last summer, Stevens told reporters that he paid for all the remodeling bills that were presented to him. Since then, he's refused to comment.
That action has become troubling for would-be supporters like Anchorage lawyer and former Democratic state legislator Chancey Croft.
"While it's great advice to a person that's charged with a crime, it's a terrible thing for a politician to constantly say to the voters, 'I don't have to explain to you serious charges against me, and I'm not going to do it,'" he said.
Stevens has not been formally charged with any wrongdoing, though he's acknowledged that he's under investigation.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press