Sen. Stevens' Bid To Move Trial To Alaska Fails

Sen. Ted Stevens has lost a bid to move his corruption trial from Washington to his home state of Alaska. The Republican lawmaker had said both the witnesses and his campaign for re-election were in Alaska. The trial is due to start next month.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today, a federal judge refused to move the trial of Senator Ted Stevens from Washington, D.C. to Alaska. Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate, is charged with filing false financial disclosure reports to conceal gifts valued at more than $250,000.

Senator Stevens did not attend today's court hearing, but NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg did. And she joins us now. Nina, Senator Stevens asked for an early trial date and then asked that his trial be moved to Alaska. Why?

NINA TOTENBERG: Well, to put it very simply, he's up for reelection to a seventh term. And while he is - in the public opinion polls anyway - crushing his Republican primary opponents, he's in real trouble in the general election against a Democrat. So he wants to be able to campaign.

SIEGEL: So that's the political context of this motion leading to today's hearing. What happened to the hearing? What was it like?

TOTENBERG: Well, in one corner was the defense lawyer Brendan Sullivan, perhaps most famous for representing Oliver North in Iran-contra and proclaiming, I am not a potted plant, when a senator tried to shut him up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TOTENBERG: Sullivan unfurled a large map to show how far Alaska is from Washington. Answer, 3,500 miles. And he argued that since the majority of witnesses would have to come to D.C. from Alaska, the trial should be moved to Alaska. Even more importantly, in deference to the Democratic process, he said the trial should be in Alaska so that Senator Stevens could campaign nights and weekends.

Now, in the other corner was prosecutor Nicholas Marsh, who argued that the crime was committed in D.C., that some of the gifts, including cars, were shipped to D.C., that prosecutors, investigators, defense lawyers and many witnesses are in D.C., and most importantly, that the hot Senate campaign in Alaska, including TV and radio ads, could taint the jury pool. Bottom, unspoken line, Robert?

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

TOTENBERG: The defense figured a jury in Alaska would be more favorable to Stevens, and the prosecution didn't want that. As prosecutor Marsh put it today, it gives the government more than a little heartburn for the defense to engineer a trial before an election and then move the trial to a more favorable venue. And in response, the defense said that the government didn't have to indict Stevens so close to the election.

SIEGEL: Well, I gather, given the result, that the defense arguments were to no avail.

TOTENBERG: Judge Emmet Sullivan refused to move the trial to Alaska. Since the senator asked for an early trial date, he said any transfer would inevitably delay matters and would add to the expense of the case. But the judge did say he would consider having a four-day trial week, leaving Senator Stevens with three days in which to travel to Alaska and campaign.

SIEGEL: Well, what would that do to Senator Stevens' desire to have the trial done with, have a verdict before Election Day?

TOTENBERG: Well, the trial is likely to take at least four weeks. Now, if you have a five-day trial week, that would, at best, give you a verdict very shortly before the election. If you have a four-day trial week, you end up very likely having a verdict not before the election, and in fact having all of the sort of last days of the case coming to fruition just before the election.

So if the option of choosing goes to the defense, that puts the defense between a rock and a hard place. But they will have to decide if they get that option. The judge could decide for them.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Nina.

TOTENBERG: Thank you.

SIEGEL: NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

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