Facing Indictment, Sen. Stevens Claims Innocence The nation's longest-serving Republican in Senate history and a major figure in Alaska politics is facing seven felony counts. Ted Stevens, 84, is accused of concealing more than a quarter million dollars in gifts from a powerful oil contractor, but he says he never knowingly submitted a false financial disclosure form.
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Facing Indictment, Sen. Stevens Claims Innocence

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Facing Indictment, Sen. Stevens Claims Innocence


Facing Indictment, Sen. Stevens Claims Innocence

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This is MORNING EDITION. I'm Deborah Amos in for Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Across five time zones from Anchorage to Washington, D.C., news of the indictment of Ted Stevens is still sinking in. Stevens is the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate. For 40 years he's championed Alaskan causes in the Senate and funneled billions in federal money to the state.

But federal prosecutors say Stevens benefited too. They say he let a private company remodel his home and failed to disclose the gift as required by law. Stevens says he's never knowingly submitted a false financial disclosure form.

Coming up, we'll hear reaction from Capitol Hill. First, NPR's Martin Kaste reports on the federal case against Ted Stevens and the effect it's having in Alaska.

MARTIN KASTE: If you want to get a sense of what a big deal Ted Stevens is back home, just listen to Republican Governor Sarah Palin's reaction to his indictment yesterday.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): The news today rocks this foundation of our state and I certainly share Alaska's concern and dismay over the turn of events today. I'm going to, of course, remember that Senator Stevens has dedicated his life to the betterment of this state.

KASTE: But this indictment doesn't come as a surprise to Alaskans. They've been waiting for this shoe to drop for a while now. The whispers started two years ago when federal prosecutors charged several state legislators with selling their votes to an oil services company called Veco.

As the trials played out, Alaskans found themselves listening to FBI surveillance tapes of their state lawmakers making nice with Veco executives. Here State Representative Vic Kohring calls oil executive Rick Smith.

Mr. VIC KOHRING (Former State Representative, Alaska): I hope I'm not bothering you or anything. I know it's a Saturday morning. Is this okay?

Mr. RICK SMITH (Oil Executive): Oh, no, no problem. I'm just doing a little computer work.

Mr. KOHRING: Well, basically it was just to keep in touch with my friends at Veco, 'cause I never want you guys ever to get the impression I forget about you after I get your help during a campaign.

Mr. SMITH: Oh, no problem.

Mr. KOHRING: Yeah, okay. Is there any - having said that, is there anything that you have any concerns that I need to be aware of?

KASTE: These were just state legislators on the FBI surveillance tapes, but Alaskans started wondering whether Veco might also have friendly ties with some bigger fish. Then, last summer, federal agents raided Senator Stevens' house in Alaska. The agents spent a whole day taking pictures and videos of a remodeling job, a job prosecutors now say was a gift from Veco.

For the 12 months following that raid, the feds said nothing about the case and Stevens found himself having to defend his ethics almost every time he sat down for an interview.

Senator TED STEVENS (Republican, Alaska): I have not done anything that is wrong in the process of my official activities.

KASTE: Here he is on Monday, one day before the indictment, in an interview with the Alaska Public Radio Network.

Sen. STEVENS: I was chairman of the ethics committee. I've been elected to every office but one you can hold in the Senate. All of those things you don't get selected to do that if you're known to be, in any way, tainted by personal misconduct.

KASTE: But the constant denials have had an effect on the reputation of the man Alaskans call Uncle Ted. He's up for reelection this November and he's facing the strongest Democratic challenger in years. He's even trailing in some polls.

Justice Department official, Matthew Friedrich, was adamant yesterday that none of this was a factor in this indictment.

Mr. MATTHEW FRIEDRICH (Official, Justice Department): Partisan politics should play no part either in what charges we bring or in things like the timing of indictment or that type of thing. That policy has been followed to the letter in this case.

KASTE: But it's undeniable that these charges could spell the end of Ted Stevens' political career. Yesterday APRN reporters gathered reactions of Alaskans all around the state. Attitudes ranged from cynical defiance - in the case of Dan Winters:

Mr. DAN WINTERS (Alaskan Resident): How many politicians are going to be left if we're going to indict every one of them for false statements? And if we lose Ted Stevens, we're going to lose a lot of money coming into this state.

KASTE: To the more self-critical perspective of Mimi Rosen.

Ms. MIMI ROSEN (Alaskan Resident): For years we haven't cared about anything that Ted Stevens said or did, as long as he brought money back to us. As long as we got an airport, as long as we got a bridge, whether it went somewhere or nowhere, and, you know, it's just on a different level the same thing he's doing. He doesn't care who he casts a vote for as long as he gets a second story on his house.

KASTE: But in Anchorage, many of the older attorneys and retired politicians, the people who've known Stevens since the 1960s, say they think he's a relatively honest man who allowed himself to get too comfortable around certain well-heeled and generous business interests. And now that the other shoe has dropped, they feel sorry it's dropped on Stevens.

Martin Kaste, NPR News.

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