Sen. Stevens Will Be Back On The Witness Stand
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Alaska Senator Ted Stevens has begun to testify in his own defense. Before he started the judge said he didn't have to do it and Stevens replied, it's a privilege and the duty. Prosecutors say the senator received a quarter million dollars in gifts and services from an oil industry executive. Other friends and they say he intentionally failed to report this on the Senate disclosure forms, so those are the charges. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg is listening to Stevens' answers.
NINA TOTENBERG: Stevens, wearing a blue blazer and grey slacks, took the witness stand late yesterday and immediately faced three rapid fire questions from defense lawyer Brendan Sullivan.
"When you signed those financial disclosure forms, did you believe the to be accurate and truthful?" "Yes, sir," replied Stevens in a firm voice. "Did you intentionally file false financial disclosure forms?" "No, I did not." "Did you ever scheme to conceal anything from the Senate?" "No, sir," said Stevens.
The details of Stevens's denials will come today as will cross-examination. Most of yesterday was taken up by testimony from Catherine Stevens, the senator's wife who's a partner in a major law firm and said she was in charge of the renovation of the couple's Girdwood, Alaska home, a renovation that transformed a modest A-frame cabin in the woods into a two-story chalet with wrap-around decks, a Jacuzzi, fancy grill, and other amenities. The renovation is the major focus of the charges against Senator Stevens.
The prosecution's star witness, one-time oil industry executive Bill Allen, has testified that he sent people on his payroll to work on the Stevens renovation, and that he absorbed tens of thousands of dollars in labor and material cost. Mrs. Stevens, however, said she knew nothing about that, that she assumed she had been billed for the work done by Allen's employees. She said she thought they were seasonal employees who were being paid by the general contractor on the house - Christianson Builders. It's not easy to find people to work in Girdwood she said, so that's the way it works through friends.
Under cross-examination, however, she conceded she had no contract with Christianson, the company that supposedly was her general contractor, and there was no proposal or bid, and that when she bought hardware for the kitchen she sent it not the Christianson but to one of Allen's employees at Allen's corporate offices. She said she had not known that John Hess, the man who made the architectural drawings for the renovation, was an Allen employee. She said she assumed that his fee had been included in the bills she paid and that, as with the other men who worked on the house, she had no contract with Hess.
Prosecutor Branda Morris, her voice dripping with sarcasm, "this is your home?" Answer, "yes." "Your husband loves this home?" "Yes." "And you had no contract with the architect?" Answer, "no." "You never even met him?" "No." Mrs. Stevens testified that many of Bill Allen's efforts only made her mad. The expensive gas grill she said was a fire hazard and dangerous to have around grandchildren. She never used it. She was equally infuriated when she arrived at the house to find that Allen had installed his own furniture as a gift and had hers taken away.
On cross-examination, prosecutor Morris asked Stevens why the furniture is still there years later. Answer, "because I couldn't get Bill Allen to move it out." Once he hit his head and suffered a serious head injury, it was hard to have any conversation with him. Prosecutor Morris, "you make close to half a million dollars a year. Why not just have it taken to the dump?" Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.