Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' Trial Opens

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Sen. Ted Stevens has blamed a contractor friend for his legal troubles on the first day of the trial of the Republican lawmaker. Stevens, who is being tried for corruption, is accused of lying on Senate forms about home renovations and gifts he received from the contractor.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

It has been nearly 30 years since a sitting U.S. senator faced a federal jury. This morning, that changed. Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska sat in a packed Washington D.C. courtroom. Lawyers laid out their opening statements in the trial that could determine his political future. Stevens is charged with lying to hide a quarter million dollars in gifts. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO: The 84-year-old senator left his trademark Incredible Hulk neck tie at home today. He wore a charcoal gray suit, blue tie, and American flag lapel pin. He scowled as prosecutor Brenda Morris told the jury he made the choice to repeatedly violate the law. Morris described a close friendship between Stevens and a man named Bill Allen. Allen ran an oil services company called VECO in Alaska.

And, as Morris said, we reached for the yellow pages. Stevens reached for VECO. She said, whenever Stevens needed anything, Allen provided it, a gas grill, a tool kit, 20,000 dollars worth of Christmas lights, and a massive home renovation, $250,000 worth of gifts. Morris told the jury, the public had a right to know this, but the defendant schemed to conceal the valuables he received. She said, if you look at the defendant's financial disclosure forms, it's as if VECO was never there, and that's exactly what the defendant wanted to project.

After about an hour, defense attorney Brendan Sullivan stepped up. He said Stevens was trying to manage a home renovation from 3,000 miles away. He didn't know what the project cost. He trusted Bill Allen, and he paid every bill he received. As Sullivan put it, you can't report what you don't know. He said Stevens didn't want the grill, the tools, the lights. The defense said, in some cases, Stevens told Allen to take the gifts away. In others, Stevens paid what he thought the gifts were worth.

This case will unfold in more detail over the next month. Stevens wants a verdict by election day. A Democrat named Mark Begich is challenging Stevens for the Senate seats, and the outcome of this trial could determine who wins. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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