Stevens Found Guilty on 7 Counts
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, one of Congress's most powerful Republicans, was convicted yesterday of lying on financial disclosure forms to conceal his receipt of gifts and expensive renovations to his house, just eight days before he faces voters in a tight reelection contest.
The 84-year-old lawmaker, the first sitting U.S. senator to go on trial in more than two decades, sat quietly as a jury foreman in federal court read the verdict after less than a day of deliberations: guilty on seven felony counts, each with a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The senator, who probably will face a less severe penalty under federal sentencing guidelines, left the courtroom without answering reporters' questions.
In a statement issued by his office, Stevens maintained his innocence, accused Justice Department lawyers of "repeated instances of prosecutorial misconduct" and vowed to fight for reelection to a seventh full term.
"This verdict is the result of the unconscionable manner in which the Justice Department lawyers conducted this trial," he said. "I ask that Alaskans and my Senate colleagues stand with me as I pursue my rights."
Indicted in July, Stevens requested an expedited trial to clear his name before Election Day. Despite the guilty verdict, he will remain on the ballot and is engaged in a tight race against Anchorage's Democratic mayor, Mark Begich.
If he can pull off a victory, Stevens could cling to his seat in the Senate for months, if not longer, while he appeals the verdict. Tradition allows him to exhaust his appeals before the ethics committee will begin expulsion hearings, according to the Senate Historical Office. It takes 67 votes to expel a senator.
Known as "Uncle Ted" in Alaska, Stevens has been a major figure in his state for more than four decades and has brought home billions of dollars in federal aid during his career. Political handicappers refused to write him off but said his chances of reelection were greatly diminished by yesterday's outcome.
"In another state, he would be toast," said Charlie Cook, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. "In Alaska, you gotta make him a significant underdog."
It is not clear what role the conviction will play in contests waged by other embattled Senate Republicans who are trying to hold on to their seats. Within hours of the verdict, Democrats were sending out news releases seeking to link their opponents to Stevens's trouble.
"It's a horrible year for Republicans, in a horrific fall, and this is yet another horrific event," Cook said. "This throws them off message; it puts them back on the defensive again. It makes it harder to separate themselves from the party."
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the GOP's vice presidential candidate, has declined to endorse Stevens and issued a statement last night that said: "This is a sad day for Alaska and for Senator Stevens and his family."
"I'm confident Senator Stevens will do what's right for the people of Alaska," she added, without elaborating.