Taking the Witness Chair, but Not Owning It

That's the senator at right, in the non-vibrating seat.
That's the senator at right, in the non-vibrating seat. (Illustration By Dana Verkouteren Via Associated Press)
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By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ted Stevens has sat on many things during his 40 years in the Senate.

The 84-year-old Alaskan has had a seat on the commerce committee longer than any Republican in history, he boasted during his trial on corruption-related charges. He also sat on the Senate committees on appropriations, rules, governmental affairs and ethics -- in the chairman's seat, no less. As the former Senate president pro tempore, he sat frequently in the presiding officer's chair. And Stevens, the longest-sitting Republican in the Senate, often rests his haunches at his center-aisle desk on the Senate floor.

But what got Stevens in trouble was another seat he chose to occupy: a $2,695 vibrating Shiatsu massage lounger from Brookstone.

And that has set up perhaps the cruelest irony in the whole sad Stevens trial: The chairman is in danger of being unseated by a chair.

Prosecutor Brenda Morris, toward the end of her cross-examination of the senator yesterday, settled in for a long discussion about the chair, which Alaska restaurateur Bob Persons bought for Stevens as a gift seven years ago -- but which Stevens never reported on his Senate disclosure forms.

"And the chair is still at your house?" Morris asked.

"Yes," Stevens conceded.

"How is that not a gift?"

"He bought that chair as a gift, but I refused it as a gift," Stevens explained. "He put it there and said it was my chair. I told him I would not accept it as a gift."

"Where is that chair now?"

"In our house," Stevens repeated. "We have lots of things in our house that don't belong to us, ma'am."

And that's supposed to help his case?

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