Mr. Stevens's Extreme Makeover

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

ANEW FIRST floor. A new garage. A two-story wraparound deck. Plumbing and electrical wiring. A professional Viking gas grill. These are among the more than $250,000 worth of gifts that prosecutors allege Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens accepted from an Alaska oil services company, Veco, and its former chief executive, Bill J. Allen, but failed to report on his annual financial disclosure forms. Not only failed to report, according to the seven-count indictment handed up yesterday by a federal grand jury in Washington, but actively concealed -- not surprisingly since, according to the indictment, Mr. Stevens simultaneously "received and accepted solicitations for multiple official actions from Allen and other Veco employees," including help with projects in Pakistan and Russia, requests for federal grants and contracts, and help with efforts to build a natural gas pipeline from the state's North Slope.

Mr. Stevens, 84, has represented Alaska in the Senate for 40 years, making him the longest-serving Republican senator ever. A tenacious, sometimes irascible, occasionally volcanic, entirely unapologetic fighter to secure funding for Alaskan projects, he is a figure of near mythic stature at home and, thanks to his rank on the Appropriations Committee, enormous clout at the Capitol. Mr. Stevens is entitled to the presumption of innocence; he has previously said that he paid all bills that came to him for the extensive renovations to the Girdwood home he calls "the chalet." It is notable that prosecutors sought only false-statement charges against Mr. Stevens for failing to report the alleged gifts; despite the language in the indictment about Mr. Stevens's alleged help for Veco, he was not charged with the more serious offense of taking a bribe or illegal gratuity.

Nonetheless, the facts as portrayed in the indictment appear devastating for Mr. Stevens, who was already facing a difficult reelection race this year. They depict Mr. Stevens happily accepting renovation work from Veco employees, calling Mr. Allen to have Veco fix the heating system, writing thank-you messages about Veco's work. It's hard to understand how, given that level of involvement, he would not have known that the company was providing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of unpaid labor and materials. Mr. Stevens said, in a statement posted on his Web site yesterday, that he was "innocent of these charges" and had "never knowingly submitted a false disclosure form." We look forward, as we imagine his constituents do, to hearing the senator's explanation of how, exactly, he thought all these renovations were being financed.

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