Taped Phone Conversations Played At Stevens Trial

Jurors heard secretly recorded telephone conversations Monday in the trial of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. The calls were taped in 2006 with the consent of witness Bill Allen, who admitted under cross-examination that he never tried to bribe the Alaska lawmaker. Stevens is charged with lying about money and gifts on financial disclosure forms.

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And I'm Ari Shapiro. The prosecution could rest its case today in the trial of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. Stevens is the longest serving Republican in the U.S. Senate, and he faces charges that he lied about $250,000 in gifts. Those gifts came from Bill Allen, the head of a major oil services company. Yesterday, the prosecution played secretly tape recorded conversations between Allen and Stevens. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.

NINA TOTENBERG: Bill Allen and Ted Stevens may seem an odd couple. Allen is the ruffian roustabout who left school at age 15 to support his family, moved to Alaska to work on the oil platforms, and eventually built his own business becoming the state's largest private employer and making a fortune. Ted Stevens, a Harvard Law School graduate and former prosecutor, helped engineer statehood for Alaska and has served as the state senator for 40 years, a powerful position that has allowed him to steer billions of federal dollars to his state.

By the 1990s, the two men had become fast friends, with Stevens sometimes helping Allen secure profitable ventures and Allen raising money for Stevens and other Republican candidates. Trouble came to both men and to Alaska's political establishment when the federal government began investigating the rough and tumble way politics were practiced in the state. Stevens is the biggest fish to face criminal charges and he does so at a time when he's in a tough re-election contest. He's not charged with taking bribes but with knowingly omitting from his Senate disclosure form a quarter million dollars in gifts and services from Allen, including major home renovations.

Allen, who has pleaded guilty to bribing state officials, agreed to tape record phone conversations with his friend, the senator, and to testify against him and others in exchange for the government's agreeing not to prosecute the Allen children. Still, at this trial Allen has been a reluctant witness, giving sometimes contradictory testimony. Lawyers for Stevens have pointed to notes and emails the senator wrote to Allen asking for bills on the home renovation, and Stevens has said he paid all the bills he got, totaling $160,000. Allen has said a variety of things in his testimony about the bills. The most damaging is that a go-between told him to ignore Stevens' request for them, because they were just Ted, quote, "covering his ass." Yesterday, the prosecution played the tape-recorded conversations made in 2006. Stevens, the one time prosecutor, seems to be expecting the worst as he tells his friend Allen to buck up.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAPE-RECORDED CONVERSATION)

TED STEVENS: You got to get a mental attitude that these guys can't really hurt us, you know. They're not going to shoot us, it's not Iraq. Well, what the hell? Worst can be that - worst that can happen to us is we run up a bunch of legal fees and might lose, and we might have to pay a fine, might have serve a little time in jail. I hope to Christ it never gets to that.

SCHMIDT: And Stevens even suggests he knows the Feds may be listening.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAPE-RECORDED CONVERSATION)

STEVENS: I think they're probably listening to this conversation right now, for Christ's sake.

SCHMIDT: One conversation can be read as either just two men commiserating or a pact.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAPE-RECORDED CONVERSATION)

STEVENS: I told my guys, no matter what comes up, we're not abandoning you. I think you've done what you thought was right and I think was right. And so, let's stick this thing out together, OK?

BILL ALLEN: You bet, Ted.

SCHMIDT: Stevens repeatedly says neither he nor Allen has done anything wrong, that a criminal charge has an intent requirement.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAPE-RECORDED CONVERSATION)

STEVENS: It may be that what we've done leaves an impression we've done something wrong, but you have to make up your mind you're doing something wrong, you have to have an intention to do something wrong to really be guilty of a crime. So, you know, it's a long way before we're going to be in front of a jury.

SCHMIDT: And Stevens warns Allen that the two men should lay low. They should do nothing that would look like they are interfering with the investigation.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAPE-RECORDED CONVERSATION)

STEVENS: Let's not try to share information that they don't have.

ALLEN: OK.

STEVENS: That would be obstruction of justice.

SCHMIDT: And finally, Stevens tells Allen to cheer up.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAPE-RECORDED CONVERSATION)

STEVENS: You got to have some faith in the system and faith in the juries and faith in what's going to go on in order to succeed in this deal.

ALLEN: OK.

STEVENS: Try it, buddy.

ALLEN: I will.

STEVENS: OK.

ALLEN: Hey, Ted?

STEVENS: Yeah?

ALLEN: I love you, you know.

SCHMIDT: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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