MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The longest serving Republican senator, Alaska's Ted Stevens, testified in his own defense today at his corruption trial here in Washington. Stevens firmly denied accepting gifts that he then failed to reveal on his financial disclosure forms. NPR's Nina Totenberg is covering the trial and joins us now. And Nina, why don't you first layout what the government's case is against Senator Stevens.
NINA TOTENBERG: Well, prosecutors claim that Stevens accepted a quarter million dollars in gifts and services from friends, including a big oil industry executive named Bill Allen, and then failed to disclose those on his senate financial disclosure form. The heart of the case is, the renovation of his Alaska home and the star witness, this guy Bill Allen, testified that he absorbed tens of thousands of dollars in label - labor and material costs on the house and that he didn't bill Stevens because a mutual friend who was also helping with the renovation told them that all of Stevens written requests for bills were just quote, Ted covering his ass.
BLOCK: And Ted - Senator Steven's version of what happened?
TOTENBERG: Senator Steven says I've paid all the bills that I got. My wife was actually in charge of this project, I was only peripherally involved. I kept telling them to bill me, I expected to be billed. I didn't do anything wrong.
BLOCK: How did he handle the cross-examination today by prosecutors?
TOTENBERG: Well remember, Ted Stevens is known as one of the lions of the Senate, he's one of the old bulls. But he's 84 years old. He's a little diminutive guy. He got up there. He's a pretty tough feisty but soft-spoken witness. And we've all heard him, those of who's covered the Senate, we've heard him rail on the Senate floor. There was - he did not lose his temper, he was very calm but he was not going to be pushed around. At one point, he's accused the prosecutor of a tautological question. A tautology I think he said. But her point was she said, look, here's this house. Stuff keeps happening on it. Big gifts, a fancy gas grill, all kinds of stuff and you say it just happened, you didn't know what to do about it? She said, you were the lion of the Senate but you didn't know how to stop Bill Allen from bringing all these big ticket items into your home? And he said, I trusted him, he was my friend. But then perhaps the most bizarre part of this is the furniture. Bill Allen took out the family furniture, stored it in a warehouse some place, put his own furniture that he was donating to the Steven's used furniture for the most part in the house. And the Stevens say they come there and they just find this. And Ted Stevens said today that he could not repeat what his wife said to him about this but it's still there today. And they haven't really answered why they didn't get rid of it.
BLOCK: We should mention that Senator Stevens is in a very tough re-election fight. There were, Nina, doubts about whether he would testify, it's always a risky thing to do. Why is he taking the stand?
TOTENBERG: Well, I assume that the defense thought they had to let him up there to explain why, and they probably left it till the very end to make a final decision. But candidly, his wife was not the greatest witness yesterday. She really didn't have answers for a lot of these questions, and since it's he who is on trial and he who's basically says it was her job, not mine, and I asked for the bills and I didn't get them. They figured they better put them up there.
BLOCK: OK. Thank you, Nina.
TOTENBERG: Thank you.
BLOCK: That's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.
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