Alaska's Stevens Pleads Not Guilty

Sen. Ted Stevens enters U.S. District Court in Washington for his arraignment. The Alaska Republican is charged with failing to report valuable gifts and services.
Sen. Ted Stevens enters U.S. District Court in Washington for his arraignment. The Alaska Republican is charged with failing to report valuable gifts and services. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 1, 2008

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) pleaded not guilty yesterday to federal charges of making false statements about more than $250,000 in renovations to his Anchorage-area home and was granted an unusually early trial date after requesting the chance to win acquittal before this fall's election.

Stevens's lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, requested the accelerated schedule to allow the 84-year-old senator to "clear his name" before the general election on Nov. 4. "This is not a complex case, and it should move quickly," he said.

With no objection from prosecutors, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan set Stevens's trial date for Sept. 24.

A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted Stevens on seven counts of concealing information on his financial disclosure forms about lucrative home renovations and gifts, including a wraparound deck and a Viking gas grill, that he allegedly received from executives of a now-defunct oil services company, Veco.

Randall Eliason, a former head of the public corruption unit at the U.S. attorney's office in the District who now teaches white-collar criminal law at local universities, said defense attorneys rarely make such a request. He said, however, that Brendan Sullivan is probably prepared for trial because the investigation has gone on for several years.

"They have had a lot of time during the grand jury investigation to be preparing," Eliason said.

Prosecutor Brenda K. Morris, an attorney with the Justice Department's public integrity section, said her team has wiretap evidence and will take about three weeks to present its case at trial.

Jennifer Duffy, a Senate analyst for the Cook Political Report, said the indictment had made the race favorable for Stevens's Democratic opponent. But she noted that an acquittal before Election Day would produce a huge "sympathy vote" for Stevens.

But Stuart Rothenberg, founder of the Rothenberg Political Report, said that prospect is too uncertain and that GOP leaders should try to move Stevens out of the race by the mid-September deadline for replacing candidates for reasons other than death or incapacity.

"The Republicans can't take that roll of the dice," Rothenberg said.

Yesterday afternoon, Stevens brushed past reporters and entered the courthouse wearing a gray suit, blue shirt and a tie decorated with small American flags. He and his attorney declined to comment before and after the hearing.

When the arraignment began, Stevens, 84, stood briefly with Brendan Sullivan, who answered "not guilty" for him.


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