RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Senator Ted Stevens proudly testified in his own defense. But in the end, he did not persuade the jury. And now he has to persuade Alaska voters to re-elect him even though he's been found guilty.
MONTAGNE: That election could have national implications. Democrats are driving to increase their power in the Senate, and Stevens' seat is one more that Republicans suddenly have to worry about. NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg covered the Stevens corruption trial.
NINA TOTENBERG: Stevens rolled the dice and lost. He pressed for an early trial date hoping that he could go to the citizens of Alaska with a "not guilty" verdict. He testified in his own defense expecting that he could persuade the jury he never intentionally failed to disclose gifts with a value over the legal limit. Instead, the jury convicted him after less than two and a half days of deliberations. Even the removal of one juror Sunday night because of the death of her father and the substitution of an alternate yesterday morning did not seem to slow the jurors down. By afternoon, they had a verdict.
The eight women and four men filed into the courtroom. The foreman stood and in a soft voice delivered the news. Guilty, guilty, guilty on all seven counts. The 84-year-old Senator bowed his head slightly after the first verdict then looked up again showing no emotion. His wife sat in the front row, grim-faced. His daughter looked at her father. There were no tears. Outside the courthouse, acting Assistant Attorney General Matt Friedrich noted that the jury found that Senator Stevens filed false financial disclosure forms over a six-year period.
Mr. MATT FRIEDRICH (Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division): The evidence at trial showed that Senator Stevens committed this crime to hide from the public and from his constituents the fact that he had received hundreds of thousands of dollars of freebies from an Alaska corporation and its chief executive officer.
TOTENBERG: And, said Friedrich, Senator Stevens accepted these gifts, including renovations on his home, at a time when the corporation and its CEO were seeking the Senator's assistance. Despite the verdict, in Alaska Stevens remains on the ballots seeking an eighth term in the U.S. Senate. He's in a tight race with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, and is so beloved in the state he's represented for forty years that he's earned the nickname "Uncle Ted." But when he's sentenced early next year, the 84-year-old senator could be sent to prison. He faces a maximum of five years on each of the seven counts, though the sentencing guidelines call for far less time, and the judge has the discretion to suspend all jail time.
In the weeks leading up to the trial, Stevens said repeatedly that he would not resign his senate seat. "Put it down," he told reporters, "I'm not stepping down." If he's re-elected, there's no Senate rule that would automatically force him out. He can be ousted only by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. Once the seat is vacant, Alaska law would require a special election to replace him. But that would be a long way off. If he's re-elected, his appeal would take months, and he might well seek a pardon from President Bush before Mr. Bush leaves office.
The Senate Ethics Committee, by tradition, does not start expulsion proceedings until all appeals are exhausted. And in any event, Stevens' opponent is now favored to win the race. In a statement yesterday, Stevens maintained his innocence and asked Alaskans and his Senate colleagues to stick with him until he clears his name. Fellow Republicans, however, immediately began jumping ship, starting with Alaska's governor and vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin. Palin, widely seen as having national ambitions beyond this campaign, issued a statement saying the verdict shines a light on the corrupting influence of a big oil services company whose CEO gave many of the gifts to Stevens that the senator did not report.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, himself in a tight re-election race, similarly abandoned any loyalty to Stevens. Said McConnell, Senator Stevens will be held accountable so the public trust can be restored. And Nevada's Senator John Enson, the chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, said, quote, "This is a reminder that no man is above the law." Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
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