Sen. Stevens Indicted In Graft Probe

Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska has been indicted on seven counts of falsely reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars in services he received from a company that helped renovate his home. He is the longest-serving Republican senator.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

In Alaska, he's known as Uncle Ted - a fixture in politics for more than 50 years since before statehood. Today, Republican Senator Ted Stevens stands indicted for concealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gifts received from an oil services company. This is Acting Assistant Attorney General William Friedrich(ph) speaking to reporters in Washington.

WILLIAM FRIEDRICH: The gifts Senator Stevens is alleged to have received include substantial amounts of material and labor used in the renovation of a private residence which Senator Stevens and his wife own located in the town of Girdwood, Alaska. These renovations are alleged to have included the addition of a new first floor with multiple bedrooms and a bathroom as well as a finished full basement.

NORRIS: The indictment goes on to detail other items Senator Stevens allegedly received including furniture, a tool cabinet, and a new Viking range. NPR's Martin Kaste is covering the story. Hello, Martin.

MARTIN KASTE: Good afternoon.

NORRIS: Now, explain to us what crimes this indictment outlines.

KASTE: Well, this indictment is about false statements. The Justice Department is accusing the senator of basically concealing the fact that he was receiving these gifts. That he was allegedly profiting from his relationship with VECO and the executives at VECO, the oil services company. This is specifically about the fact that they alleged that he didn't - he failed to disclose in the annual financial disclosure form, that senators are required to file, the fact that this income or these gifts or these benefits were coming to him and that is a violation of ethics rules and of federal law. So this is about what he failed, what they alleged - they alleged that this is about him failing to disclose what he was receiving.

NORRIS: Now, I want to make sure I understand this. So he's not actually accused of bribery.

KASTE: They're very clear about that. They say they are not accusing him of a quid pro quo, of him delivering a service in his capacity as a senator to these oil executives in return for these gifts. They do, in the indictment, describe the fact that as far as the government is concerned, these executives knew that he listened to their requests, that he often did help them on their various issues that they had in the federal government, but they do not actually accuse him of exchanging favors for these gifts. Observers here assume that that means they just didn't have the evidence to make that kind of a case.

NORRIS: Now, the Justice Department said that Stevens would not be arrested. He would be allowed to turn himself in. Has he actually responded now?

KASTE: No statements from the senator yet today. In the past, he has repeatedly and adamantly denied any wrongdoing in connection to this investigation. It was widely known this investigation has been going on. Last year, he made a point of saying he had paid the bills relating to that remodeling job on his house. What he said, actually, was that he paid the bills presented to him, but he has insisted that he has not - that he's not guilty of any wrongdoing here.

NORRIS: How did this investigation begin?

KASTE: Well, apparently, the investigation has been going on for about four years, but it really burst into public attention in Alaska two years ago when federal agents raided the offices of six state legislators. This took, of course, the political establishment in Alaska by shock. It was quite a shock to see them raiding these legislators' offices and starting them - they started to seeing these indictments. Five legislators were indicted; three so far have been tried and convicted.

And as this investigation sort of churned on, everyone was asking themselves, does this reach Ted Stevens? Does this go to the highest levels? Now, we have some sense of what the government had in mind.

NORRIS: Stevens has generally faced very easy elections, but even before the indictment it sounds like he was facing a very tough race this year.

KASTE: Tougher than usual. It's hard to know what Ted Stevens' reputation in Alaska. It's hard to know whether he really would've had a tough reelection race without this. He'd certainly had a strong challenger in Mark Begich who's from an old Alaska political family. Now, we really have no idea how these indictments will affect his reelection race. But he generally comes from a position of incredible strength in Alaska. He still is a formidable presence in Alaska and I wouldn't write him off right away.

NORRIS: Thank you, Martin.

KASTE: You're welcome.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Martin Kaste.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Justice Department Indicts Alaska Sen. Stevens

In Depth

Take a look at the charges against Ted Stevens.

 

Read a profile of the Alaska senator.

Read a copy of the indictment.

 

Read the press release from the Justice Department.

Sen. Ted Stevens: Career Timeline

  • 1958 – Assistant to Secretary of the Interior
  • 1958 – Promoted passage of Alaska Statehood Act
  • 1960 – Chief counsel, Department of the Interior
  • 1961 – Practiced law in Alaska.

Public Service

  • 1964 – Elected to Alaska House of Representatives
  • 1966 – Re-elected
  • 1968 – Appointed to U.S. Senate to fill vacancy caused by death of Democratic incumbent E.L. Bartlett.
  • 1970 – Elected in special election to U.S. Senate.
  • Re-elected to Senate in 1972, 1978, 1984, 1990, 1996, and 2002.
  • He is up for re-election this year.

Senate Leadership

  • 1977-1985 – Republican whip
  • 2003-2007 – President pro tempore

Key Alaska-Oriented Legislation

  • 1971 – Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act
  • 1972 – Marine Mammal Protection Act
  • 1973 – Trans-Alaska Pipeline Act
  • 1976 – Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act
  • 1980 – Alaska Native Interest Land Claims Act

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."

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.